Thursday, December 1, 2011

New Smart Phone Privacy Revelations Uncovered

I wasn't planning on following up my last post entitled "Smart Phones and Privacy" with yet another post about the technology and some of its privacy implications. But, after reading this headline "Your Smartphone Is Spying on You"- on the front page of Yahoo no less -  I feel I have little choice.

I'm not going to go over what I just did in my last post, but suffice it to say, I detailed a number of concerns with the technology, including government/law enforcement locational tracking without a warrant or even probable cause as well as law enforcement searching peoples smart phones (also without a warrant).

The context, particularly in light of growing Occupy protests, is important here. We should be wary of giving up more and more information - including location, text messages, and internet searches, to ANYONE, let alone when considering it could fall into the hands of forces that may be seeking to stifle dissent and intimidate (as well as break the law and violate the constitution).

But this article takes the cake!! I know this sounds incredibly Orwellian, but a secret code (Carrier IQ) has been discovered that allows your smart phone to not only track you, but take and keep every keystroke you make - even the content of your text messages. And perhaps most incredible, the consumer is not even given the ability to opt-out, let alone opt-in!). In fact, the consumer doesn't even know this code is in the phone. 

Such information represents a treasure trove of information for all kinds of interests desiring access to it, particularly advertisers and the government. And of course, we know how willing and ready the telecom industry has been to do anything our government wants despite the rights and desires of their customers.

But government aside, what about the basic right to not have EVERYTHING you do recorded (i.e. where you shop, when you shop, while you shop, what you search for on the internet, who you talk and text, and what you say and write), and then have that information turned into a detailed digital profile of you (98% of Google's profits come from advertising), and then have that profile sold on the market for HUGE profits to advertisers so they can market their products to you more effectively??? Its more than our right to privacy that is being violated...its the very idea that we "own" our own private information...and that others can't take it and profit off it without our consent.

So there are two VERY disturbing aspects of this story, from the treasure trove of personal data it offers to a law enforcement, surveillance state apparatus that is becoming increasingly authoritarian, to the "commodity" we, and what we do, has become - but without our control or right to privacy.

If these revelations don't demand an opt-in, Do-Not-Track mechanism available to all consumers, whether online or using something like a smart phone I don't know what does. We should be looking for Congress, and state houses to take this issue up, and start MANDATING that such mechanisms are provided. Perhaps in that sense, this discovery will help this important cause, and legislation that will take it on.

So let's get straight to the article in the Atlantic Wire because I'm practically speechless. Adam Clark Estes reports:

The reason for this invasive Android app seems reasonable enough at face value. Even though it's on most Android, BlackBerry and Nokia devices, most users would never know that Carrier IQ is running in the background, and that's sort of the point. Described on the company's website as software to gain "unprecedented insight into their customers' mobile experience," Carrier IQ is ostensibly supposed to help mobile carriers and device manufacturers gather data in order to improve their products. Tons of applications do this, and you're probably used to those boxes that pop up on your screen and ask if you want to help the company by sending your data back to them. If you're concerned about your privacy, you just tap no and go about your merry computing way. As security-conscious Android developer Trevor Eckhart realized, however, Carrier IQ does not give you this option, and unless you were code-savvy and looking for it, you'd never know it was there. And based on how aggressive the company has been in trying to keep Eckhart quiet about his discovery, it seems like Carrier IQ doesn't want you to know it's there either. … 

This week, Eckhart fired back with a 17-minute long video showing in painstaking detail how much data CarrierIQ collects, effectively undercutting the company's denial. It was even logging contents of text messages! Wired posted the video on Tuesday night and cemented CarrierIQ's status "as one of nine reasons to wear a tinfoil hat." The magazine explains how CarrierIQ even undercuts other companies' security measures...

Tracking is creepy. In an Orwellian kind of way, it makes people nervous -- especially Americans -- that the government or the corporations or the system is closing in on them and stealing their freedom. Of course, not everybody feels so strongly about privacy, but as long as you can opt out, it should be fine. This seems be where privacy agnostics as well as advocates both get concerned. Some people don't mind being tracked, but nobody wants to be tricked. Last week, Sen. Charles Schumer spoke out about a program at some malls in Virginia and Southern California that were anonymously tracking shoppers' movements by tracking their cell phone signals, and the only way to opt was by not going to the mall. Schumer did not approve. "Personal cell phones are just that -- personal," the New York senator said in a statement. "If retailers want to tap into your phone to see what your shopping patterns are, they can ask you for your permission to do so." The CarrierIQ software is not dissimilar to the shopper tracking program. In fact, it's arguably worse since it follows you everywhere. In the age of social media, everybody is becoming increasingly aware of and often angry about the amount of private data companies are scooping up with or without their consent. 

This week, the Federal Trade Commission and Facebook came to an agreement that the social network must make all of their new programs opt-in so as not to break the law by violating users' privacy. Even Mark Zuckerberg admitted in a sincere-sounding blog post that his company had "made a bunch of mistakes" on the privacy front in the past. He went on to detail how "offering people control over the information they share online" was a top priority. This is Mark "Privacy Is Over" Zuckerberg we're talking about here. With Facebook reportedly building its own mobile phone platform, wouldn't it be super ironic if people started defecting from the Android army and switching to the Facebook phone in the name of privacy? 

Your move, Google.

Here's the video:

So what to do? Thankfully, it didn't take long for the Free Press's "Save the Internet" campaign to jump on this today and provide us with an opportunity to let Congress and the Justice Department know that we don't appreciate being spied on. Here's some of the language from the action alert (I'll skip the stuff that repeats what I've already included in today's post), with the link to the action page...interestingly, their experts ALSO made the connection I did this reeks of like "wiretapping".

Free Press: Tell Justice Department and Congress You Don't Want to Be Spied On!

Are you being watched? A researcher just discovered a hidden application that records what millions of people write, view and search for on their mobile phones. It sends all of that data to a company no one’s ever heard of. And we have no idea what that company is doing with our information.1

Sounds like 1984. But it’s happening in 2011. Earlier today, Sen. Al Franken demanded answers from the company, Carrier IQ, calling its technology "deeply troubling." We now need a full investigation.2

The fact that one company is secretly storing away the data of millions of mobile phone users — without our knowledge, and with no way for us to opt out — is just incredible. You’d expect this sort of thing from the Chinese government — not from a company operating in the present-day U.S.

This is not only a privacy problem. It’s a democracy problem. Mobile phones have become the ultimate democracy devices. Activists from Cairo to New York City to Los Angeles have used their phones to broadcast images of pepper-spraying cops, handcuffed journalists and squares full of protesters. We must ensure that the most important movements of our time aren’t compromised by data spies with little regard for our free speech or privacy.

Law professor and former Department of Justice attorney Paul Ohm says that Carrier IQ’s snoopware “is very likely a federal wiretap,” which means that the company could be prosecuted for breaking federal law.4 “Consumers need to know that their safety and privacy are being protected by the companies they trust with their sensitive information,” Sen. Franken said. “ … Carrier IQ has a lot of questions to answer.”

We agree. Let’s get some answers.

1 comment:

Ruby Claire said...

WOW! smartphones are getting NOW more smarter.

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