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Delete these 4 smartphone apps right now if you're concerned about privacy

Delete these 4 smartphone apps right now if you're concerned about privacy

If you’re concerned about the amount of personal data available on your smartphone for third-party applications to peruse, there are a few apps that you should probably delete as soon as possible. That’s according to a new report from Blissmark, which singled out three apps that are especially egregious when it comes to data collection.

First up, Facebook. If you’re a prolific Facebook user, this one might hurt. After all, there are some huge benefits to having a Facebook account – the social network is almost unmatched when it comes to keeping in touch with friends, sharing photos with family members who live on the other side of the planet and joining like-minded groups to discuss your interests.

However, when it comes to data-tracking, Facebook is a monster. But don’t take our word for it – Facebook itself has been forced to list all of the identifiers it uses to gather information on its users in Apple’s App Store as part of its new App Privacy Labels, which act like those nutritional traffic lights on food packaging.

According to Facebook, third-party companies who use Mark Zuckerberg’s social network to target users can rely on data from your browsing history, search history, numbers of your contacts, your precise location, purchase history, photos and videos shared to Facebook, your home address and mobile number, the number of times the app has crashed on your smartphone, and more.

If you’re wondering how Facebook would have any idea what your browsing history looks like, if you have Facebook open in a tab on your web browser, it can track the activity taking place in other open tabs. Even if you close the tab with Facebook but remain signed in with that browser, anytime you come across a website with those Login With Facebook buttons – the company will remember your account (as you’re still logged in) and make a note of the site you’re visting to better tailor its advertisements.

Next up, mSpy.

Blissmark describes this one as a “stalkerware app that markets itself to parents”. On the surface, mSpy pretends to be an innocent Find My Friends replacement designed to help parents keep an eye on the location of their children’s smartphones. The application, which is free to download but also offers in-app purchases, offers real-time location data and the option to set-up notifications when someone you’re watching leaves or arrives at a pre-determined destination.

All of this is possible with Apple’s Find My app, which is preinstalled on all iPhone, iPad and Mac. Apple keeps your location data locked down as it’s not massively interested in your location. Instead, it wants you and everyone else in your family to buy a pricey new iPhone – as Find My doesn’t work with any handsets running Android.

For families with smartphones on both iOS and Android, mSpy claims to be a viable alternative. However, the app wants access to an extraordinary amount of data. While it’s not alarming when mSpy requests access to your current location, it is a little baffling why software of this type would need to keep track of your text messages, phone calls, and activity on popular applications like WhatsApp and Snapchat.

And finally, Words With Friends. This is a simple Scrabble-like game designed to be played with friends and family over a Wi-Fi or mobile data connection. However, privacy monitoring FTC Guardian has highlighted some privacy worries with the app. For example, the game tracks your precise location when playing the game to show location-based adverts.

Speaking of games, FTC Guardian also singles out Angry Birds as a bad app icon to have littered on your home screen. With more than 2 billion downloads and a Hollywood movie under its belt since it launched back in 2009, Angry Birds is a global phenomenon. However, its apps, sequels and spin-offs aren’t worth flocking to if you’re concerned about privacy.

As reported by FTC Guardian, Angry Birds logs information about your phone calls, your signal strength, the mobile network you’re currently using, device ID, and number. Angry Birds also has the distinction of being one of a handful of apps that GCHQ targeted to snag user information from smartphones thanks to its poor security. Yikes.

Newer versions don’t have that exact issue, but nevertheless, it might be worth another look if you’re trying to keep your data close to your chest.

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This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Tech Feed

Boom Bust digs into privacy issues of blockchain-protected digital ‘vaccine passports’

Boom Bust digs into privacy issues of blockchain-protected digital ‘vaccine passports’

South Korea announced it will roll out blockchain-protected digital ‘vaccine passports’ to immunized citizens, joining other nations introducing such certificates. This could allow travelers to show digital proof of vaccination.

Boom Bust co-host and blockchain expert Ben Swann explains that South Korea wants “to make sure that whenever someone is vaccinated their information is entered into a blockchain.” The information then lives in the blockchain, not a particular site or server, and therefore it can’t be altered or changed. 

“The question is that some human has to enter that information” and could just enter names of people who were not actually vaccinated, Ben points out. “Aside of that happening, someone can’t just simply hack in and be able to alter blockchain, it can’t happen,” he says.

Ben also says there could be robust debates in some countries, including the United States, over whether or not vaccine passports are lawful.

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If You Care About Privacy, It’s Time to Try a New Web Browser

If You Care About Privacy, It’s Time to Try a New Web Browser

Firefox Focus, DuckDuckGo and Brave are all similar, but with some important differences.

Firefox Focus, available only for mobile devices like iPhones and Android smartphones, is bare-bones. You punch in a web address and, when done browsing, hit the trash icon to erase the session. Quitting the app automatically purges the history. When you load a website, the browser relies on a database of trackers to determine which to block.

DuckDuckGo, also available only for mobile devices, is more like a traditional browser. That means you can bookmark your favorite sites and open multiple browser tabs.

When you use the search bar, the browser returns results from the DuckDuckGo search engine, which the company says is more focused on privacy because its ads do not track people’s online behavior. DuckDuckGo also prevents ad trackers from loading. When done browsing, you can hit the flame icon at the bottom to erase the session.

Brave is also more like a traditional web browser, with anti-tracking technology and features like bookmarks and tabs. It includes a private mode that must be turned on if you don’t want people scrutinizing your web history.

Brave is also so aggressive about blocking trackers that in the process, it almost always blocks ads entirely. The other private browsers blocked ads less frequently.

For most people, not seeing ads is a benefit. But for those who want to give back to a publisher whose ads are blocked, Brave hosts its own ad network that you can opt into. In exchange for viewing ads that do not track your behavior, you earn a cut of revenue in the form of a token. You can then choose to give tokens to websites that you like. (Only web publishers that have a partnership with Brave can receive tokens.)

I tested all three browsers on my iPhone, setting each as my default browser for a few days.

All have a button to see how many trackers they blocked when loading a website. To test that, I visited nypost.com, the website of The New York Post, which loaded 83 trackers without any tracking prevention. With DuckDuckGo, 15 of the nypost.com trackers were blocked. With Brave, it was 22. And Firefox Focus blocked 47.

Brian X. Chen

Groups urge FTC to investigate if Google promotes apps violating children's privacy law

Groups urge FTC to investigate if Google promotes apps violating children's privacy law

Two tech advocacy groups are urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate if Google is promoting apps in its Play Store that they allege violate a children’s privacy law by collecting personal data without parental consent. 

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) filed a complaint[1] with the FTC Wednesday alleging Google is certifying apps for children as safe and appropriate that violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). 

“We urge the FTC to investigate Google’s practices and the truthfulness of its representations and act to protect parents from being misled and children from playing apps that are not appropriate and violate their privacy,” the groups wrote in the complaint. 

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The complaint cites three recent studies, as well as observations the groups made in preparing the complaint, that found child-directed apps in the Google Play store are “continuing to transmit personal information to third parties without obtaining parental consent.” 

A Google spokesperson defended the company’s handling of apps directed to children in response to the complaint. 

“Google Play is committed to providing a positive and safe environment for children and families,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Over the last few years, we’ve taken significant steps including updating our Google Play Families and Designed for Families programs with more stringent requirements around ads, content, and personal data and introducing a Kids tab in Google Play filled with ‘Teacher-approved’ apps to help families find quality apps and games for their kids. We will continue to make the protection of children on our platform a priority.”

The groups acknowledged that Google has changed how it treats apps intended for children since they filed a complaint in 2018 over similar concerns. But they said the company has not fixed the alleged violations of COPPA. 

“The FTC failed to act when this problem was brought to its attention over two years ago. Because children today are spending even more time using mobile apps, the FTC must hold Google accountable for violating children’s privacy,” Angela Campbell, chair of the board of directors of CCFC, said in a statement. 

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The concerns are amplified by the coronavirus pandemic, which has increased the use and dependence on apps among children, the complaint states. 

The complaint also targets Google’s newly created “Teacher approved” badge, which launched last April in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The badge indicates the app meets a higher quality standard, but apps with the badge were identified in the studies as collecting personal data without consent, according to the complaint. 

“For too long, the Commission has allowed Google’s app store, and the data marketing practices that are its foundation, to operate without enforcing the federal law that is designed to protect young people under 13. With children using apps more than ever as a consequence of the pandemic, the FTC should enforce the law and ensure Google engages with kids and families in a responsible manner,” Jeff Chester, executive director of the CDD, said in a statement. 

The complaint adds to the growing scrutiny against Google over its content moderation practices, as well as its market power.

References

  1. ^ filed a complaint (www.democraticmedia.org)

[email protected] (Rebecca Klar)

How to hold Big Tech accountable for violating facial recognition privacy law? Boom Bust finds out

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How to hold Big Tech accountable for violating facial recognition privacy law? Boom Bust finds out

US tech giant Facebook has been ordered to pay $ 650 million to settle a class action lawsuit in Illinois for violating a landmark state law aimed at protecting people from invasive privacy practice.

Mollye Barrows of America’s Lawyer joins RT’s Boom Bust to talk about growing concerns over AI technology.

“It’s the first law that actually regulates biometric data and it’s the only law that allows individuals to bring a case to the court that says, ‘Hey, my privacy was violated even though no harm was done to me,’” she said.

Barrows explains that “there was a violation under this Illinois law and it allows individuals to be able to pursue claims of either negligence or they were deliberate in invading their privacy. It allows basically tech companies to be held accountable, and there’s some consequences there financially which impact smaller companies more than bigger companies like Facebook, but there are some consequences.”

“So, these tech companies are still sort of hopping from state to state if you will, finding the best laws that suit what they do.”

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