There have recently been suspicions in the public eye regarding the trustworthiness of mobile application developers, and now we have real news stories detailing incidents of actual spying that has occurred. Here’s what we found.
According to a report done by The Sun, many mobile applications were caught capturing and storing screen-capture data from users’ phones. Some of the more well-known websites included Hotels.com and Expedia. According to another report done by Techlicious, this sort of recording and data storage was done using an application called “Glassbox,” which Software Developers use for data collection and analysis.
Data collection and user profiling are considered commonplace in the field of App development, and the practice is generally harmless and beneficial. In fact, these data-collection tools are often necessary for Software Developers to properly handle and repair malfunctions within their software.
Unfortunately, this instance is different. The Glassbox software that has been found on so many of the most popular mobile applications has not only been forcibly taking unwanted screenshots of application activity, it has been leaving them unencrypted and easily accessible to malicious hackers and data thieves.
Along this same line of secretive and harmful practices in Mobile app development, Apple was recently forced to take action against an application published by the Saudi government itself. This application, known as “Ashber” on the app store according to NPR, has been reported to be used as a tool for anonymously tracking women across Saudi Arabia. Incredibly, the application is still up and available for download as of February 15th, 2019. The cultural customs in the country are extremely oppressive towards women, and instances of abuse like this are extremely common and difficult to avoid for many individuals. Funnily enough, this same NPR report claims that the application was actually manipulated by a few Saudi women to enable them to have more personal freedom. A likely scenario is that they found a clever way to manipulate the location settings on the application, which then returned a false location while they were being tracked. However, this is only speculation.
If privacy issues concern you, which they should, here are a few ways that Wired says you can fight back https://www.wired.com/story/google-location-tracking-turn-off/. Location services have managed to embed themselves into nearly every conceivable application. Generally speaking, turning location services off in your regular settings will hide your location information from applications on your phone, but there are a few instances in which even this technique won’t work. In particular, Google does a fair bit of tracking through their applications even if you have location settings turned off, and there are a few other applications that aren’t affected by this as well. In order to hide your location from Google, you need to go into your location settings in your Google account itself. Merely turning it off on your phone will not do anything. In addition, you may wish to turn off Siri just for good measure.
These are just a few things that you should be concerned about in this increasingly digital age. As our smartphones become more tightly integrated with our daily activities, data-harvesting and privacy issues are only going to become more prevalent unless new regulations are enacted.