Privacy and mobile apps

Looking into using Yelp for a client, I stumbled upon the Wall Street Journal article, Your Apps Are Watching You. I just deleted half the apps on my Android devices.

I wasn’t sure if all of them were as notorious as they could be, but the if the permissions I allowed them weren’t apparent to me, they were gone.

This is some scary stuff, because the whole idea of having a “device” is that the entire experience is pre-packaged for convenience. We don’t want people to have to develop skill sets to use these things, we just want them to work. The problem, of course, is that they are incredibly powerful telecommunication devices; short of implants, we have the best technical layer for civil rights violations known to us.

I am going to start looking into all the apps I install now. I am actually going further than that, I will contact the developers when possible, and record what the applications actually do. I notice that the open source apps I use hardly ever do anything more than write to the SD card, which is understandable for what they do (like keeping a configuration file).

Is it just me, or does it seem like wherever possible, people will try to gather statistics on people without explicitly telling them? How do they sleep at night?

2 thoughts on “Privacy and mobile apps”

  1. Why is it bad to collect anonymous data on our usage statistics? I’m not arguing that it’s good–no way. I’m just curious about why it’s bad. Is it only bad because they aren’t telling us, and we also have no way to opt-out?

    I think they are all getting away with it and sleeping at night (which I don’t, obviously, since it’s nearly 5am right now) because most people don’t care — IF the stats are anonymous. I don’t particularly care if Pandora tells a whole bunch of companies that a 28-year-old female in san francisco is listening to a lot of Muse, because A) the other companies are presumably paying Pandora to get this information and that’s why I get to use Pandora for free, B) I probably say all of this on the internet with a loudspeaker all the time anyway, and C) I feel like (and this is just a muddled guess) it’s not “personal” enough to identify me, and thus isn’t truly an “invasion” of my privacy. I feel like there are a lot of 28-year-old females in San Francisco listening to Muse, so someone that wanted to maliciously find out something about me wouldn’t be able to use that data (and they’d find it all anyway due to point B with far less effort, so, yeah). Ummm…. but that’s just the point isn’t it? Where does one draw the line for “invasion of privacy” ?

    I suppose my question boils down to whether the Bad Thing is the collection of usage statistics itself, OR more about the inability to opt-out + explicitly not telling us, OR if it’s more about illustrating an alarming trend where we sheeple don’t care.

    I mean, soon we’ll be walking down the street and there will be eyeball scanners on billboards shouting our names to advertise to us, and we’ll be so numb to it by that time that the government will be able to track every citizen’s whereabouts and activities and we won’t care. Maybe I can see why it’s bad, after all.

    1. Oops. Forgot to note that I do not have a web-enabled phone. I have an ipod touch with wifi, though. If it were easy to track me via phone number + phone serial code, though, this stuff would creep me out more.

      Actually, I’m getting more paranoid by the minute. I have like 8 pages of free shitty apps installed on my ipod. Maybe I should get around to doing some cleaning up in there, too.

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