Tech Apps And Devices Do, In Fact, Skim Data


Ever since news broke a few months ago that Facebook worked closely with app developers, smartphone manufacturers, and virtually every other business under the Sun to sell Facebook users’ personal data – namely Cambridge Analytica, at first, however – people have been more concerned with their digital privacy than ever before.

News media outlets can sometimes – others can often – be misleading. How can the general public be certain that Facebook, Cambridge Analytics, and other companies be certain that what such outlets are sharing regarding data privacy leaks are true?

Researchers at Northeastern University recently published findings that several thousand mobile apps on the Android network were guilty of mining users’ data and shipping them away to third parties. While none of the many apps were guilty of recording audio via Android devices’ microphones, the ones guilty of sharing data was found to take screenshots of users’ devices and video recordings of screens.

Organizations are interested in mining tech devices’ users’ data because such information can be sold to researchers, advertisers, marketers, and tech manufacturers – virtually every entity one can imagine – for cash money. Such businesses are interested in users’ information so they can better design their applications to be used in a way that generates more advertising revenue and even boosts user experiences. However, the researchers from Northeastern University found that such mining of data was most often used to ultimately increase revenues of tech manufacturers and other affiliated parties.

The findings of the study are slated to be presented to fellow researchers, tech companies, and other interested parties in August 2018 – just one month from now – at the Privacy Enhancing Technology Symposium Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

Most apps and tech devices that mine data do not tell users exactly what types of information are being skimmed from their devices. Rather, they’re simply – in actuality, such disclosures are far from simple – told in the fine print – or in terms of use agreements and terms and conditions contracts – that their personally identifiable information is being shared with third parties for undisclosed reasons.

While the bright researchers from Northeastern University didn’t find evidence of mobile phone apps on the Android network recording users through microphones or cameras, such apps – if not the 17,000-odd apps studied, tons of others out across cyberspace – are still expected to regularly eavesdrop on their users’ activities.


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