Are Your Apps Spying On You? Yeah, Probably.

Senior Contributor

A photo-sharing app swiping your entire address book.  The Carrier IQ scandal.  The recent, and false, freakout that Facebook was reading your text messages.  It’s enough to make people ask “Is my phone spying on me?”

Are you kidding?  Of course it is!

That may sound profoundly cynical, but what do you want?  It’s the truth.  It’s a consequence of consumer demand, price ceilings, and the only way to pay for free: advertising.

Look, the success of the biggest Internet companies, like Facebook and Google, is built not on giving you something for free, but by collecting enormous amounts of data about you, and using that data to sell ads. Why do you think Facebook refuses to sync with any other social network? That user data is their only product, the only thing they have to sell. This is why Nick Bergus became the unwilling pitchman for a 55 gallon drum of lube; Amazon pays them for stories like that.

People are freaked out by mobile apps doing this without what they perceive as their permission, and they should be. But the reality is, you don’t read the privacy policies or the terms of service; you just scroll to the bottom and click “Accept.” It’s OK. We all do this. I spend half my day talking about evil privacy eating corporations and I do it all the time.

And most companies work on the idea that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. While it’s unlikely Facebook is actually reading your texts, there probably is some app doing just that, with your permission. And, when they get caught, they’re going to say that it was in the terms of service, everybody who downloaded it agreed to it, and they have no right to complain.

Inevitably, Congress, the FTC, the EU, somebody is going to give the entire mobile industry a good hard yank of the chain and we’ll get some privacy back. Until then, do this:

  • Limit your app downloading, and especially avoid novelty apps surrounding holidays. They’re free because they get something else out of them.
  • Turn off features like location data, if you can.
  • Keep a close eye on the news for potential app scandals.
  • Don’t store anything on your phone you don’t want to share.
  • And most importantly, COMPLAIN. These are businesses. If enough of them get complaints about something, they’ll eventually stop doing it.

Until then, be modest and think carefully. And don’t send nude pics. Not that that will help your privacy, just people need to knock that s*** off.

(Image via twicepix on Flickr)

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