Technology spy on users: how and why companies collect personal data

Do you think you are being followed? While you ponder the answer, let us recall that almost every action in the Internet is passive observation. The average web page communicates received data with dozens of developers. The same can be said of many mobile applications. Some of them do collect sensitive information, including your location and data about calls. Different businesses and even event organizers use Bluetooth and WiFi to monitor people nearby. Retail networks use technology to facial recognition to identify buyers and make them personal promotions. Moreover, the resulting information private companies may share with law enforcement.

The TikTok app developed in China, whose government engages in pervasive surveillance of its own citizens

The contents

Free cheese is only in mousetrap

Today, many pay attention to news about the leak of personal data of users of social networks, banks and other online platforms. But what about mobile apps? Despite the fact that their requests are not always violate the privacy, anyway, their use involves risk. The fact that applications often require access to all sorts of information on mobile devices. If you want to publish photos to Facebook, the app needs to access your photo library. If you need traffic updates in real time, the app requests access to your location. Program convert speech to text request access to the microphone. But this does not mean that they are using access to listen to your conversations (although the Facebook app this is what worked). However, some applications want to access other functions of mobile devices, which have nothing to do with the work of the application itself. This applies to requests for access to flash camera equipment and location information. The resulting information is then sold to advertising networks.

Associate Professor of the Department of Informatics at northeastern University David Choffnes believesthat the reason for the data collection almost always is monetization. Personal data of users interested developers, as selling data to other companies and advertisers makes a profit. Therefore, even if a downloadable app is “free”, users often pay for it to be confidential. Security of personal data today bothers many researchers. So, in the Center for Internet and society at Stanford law school think that there is an entire ecosystem based on that, to get as much information from phone users. The good news is that applications must now request and receive your permission to access certain functions of the device. Default access they have. That’s why when you first install the app POPs up a small window requesting access to camera, location or address book. Also, users can control the application to access their personal information, allowing it to track your location only while using the app. In the pop-up window is also usually indicated the reasons for which the application requests access. However, this does not stop some companies from violating the privacy policy.

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Unfortunately, today should not count on the integrity of developers and heads of corporations

So, thanks to criticism of the companies Apple and Google, which in the past has allowed the leak of the data, steps were taken to prevent unauthorized access to device functions and better inform users about what information to have access to installed applications. As reported by BuzzFeed News, some apps request access to your location, to provide users with the best personalized information. Not to mention that they sell or use data for targeting ads. Recently the journalists of the New York Times foundthat one of the most popular apps sent location data of users to 40 different companies while users felt that their location was monitored only for the weather.

See also: 419 million records from the database Facebook discovered free access

Despite the fact that users must be aware of the collection of personal data by applications, description of the privacy policy can be long, vague and difficult to understand. So, in the notes about the politics of privacy , some applications may be told that your data may be transferred to the branches, which actually means that they will be forwarded to advertisers and/or analytic agencies.

How to understand that data is collected without warning?

The free app is usually downloaded trackers — in the end, developers need some way to earn money. Users should not expect that such application will not collect their data.

Tracker — Analytics mobile application tracking source settings.

Faceapp assures users that it does not provide data to the government of the Russian Federation

The results of the studyconducted by the International Computer Science Institute, showed that the paid version of apps often have the same trackers as their free counterparts. Researchers believe that we are entering an era when we can not be sure that if you pay for the app, it will not get access to personal data. Games are often considered one of the most invasive apps, not to mention the fact that they are often designed or specially adapted for children, who should be protected in accordance with privacy laws, developed specially for children. Experts advise to carefully study the resolution of gaming applications before installation.

Before downloading apps that request access to functions not having any relation to the service, researchers are advised to think twice. However, it would be even better if you decide to learn more about the developer. So, if you don’t want the Chinese government potentially have access to your data, you will be interested to know that TikTok is owned by Chinese company. TikTok representatives claim that the company does not store user data on Chinese territory and does not share this information with the government. Also, the application FaceApp is based in Russia, but its developers have stated that it does not store user data in the country. In turn, representatives of Vkontakte assure the public that do not provide users ‘ personal data to law enforcement, however, the number of criminal cases because of the posts in this social network suggests otherwise. So that you can decide whether to trust such companies.

Do you pay attention to what information the mobile applications request access? Share your opinion with the participants of our Telegram chat and also find out which applications are used by readers

The researchers also recommend periodically checking the phone settings to see which apps have access to personal information. More recently, Apple and Android devices began to tell users what functions of the application requiring access, provided he can change his mind.

The illusion of control

Among experts who study the collection of personal data, is a widespread point of view that the application request for access to personal data — only the illusion of control. Applications often find other ways of obtaining the required information, including location data. They can also use data that does not need permission, such as unique device identifiers that allow applications to collect data about how and when to use them. The obtained information is then sent to advertisers by allowing them to improve their products and increase the level of sales. But still use personal information?

Surely you have heard stories about break-ins and use of personal data. Recently Facebook and Twitter have declaredthat the personal data of hundreds of users were in the public domain. The reason was the demand of some of the Android apps downloaded from the store Google Play, enter your account information. The company received a security report, according to which the development kit software called One Audience provides third-party developers access to personal data such as email addresses, user names and even latest tweets. It is not excluded that someone could gain control over someone else’s Twitter account, however, the evidence is to date there.

Gaming applications are among the most aggressive when it comes to privacy

Also hardly transparent application Facebook and Snapchat, as a large number of users regularly complain of privacy violations. However, the saddest thing is that there’s nothing we can do about it. It remains only to boycott the application if you do not like or even abandon the use of some social networks. In this case, most likely, in the future, the problem of confidentiality of personal data will become much more serious.

How to maintain data confidentiality?

I think no one would argue with the fact that people should have the right to know what information about them is collected and what it is doing. The situation in which private corporations handle personal information of users without their informed consent is simply invalid. However, almost every day we see that companies are not going to regulate the work with user data, as they are driven, first and foremost, the desire to make a profit. Moreover, many companies go even further: when users give permission to use personal data, applications, charge extra or reduce the quality of service. Thus, they should be held responsible for the misuse of confidential data.

Researchers believe that the protection of personal data is necessary to require the introduction of improved privacy laws and their enforcement. And although privacy policy is imperfect, download mobile apps without it can be downright dangerous. Of course, the best way to avoid the processing of your data by third party applications don’t load them at all. In the end, today everyone has to decide for themselves whether installation of the application that it takes.

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