Your apps are watching you
December 18, 2010 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Your apps are watching you
posted by peacay (79 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Very timely for me, as I just bought a DroidX and have been downloading apps like crazy. I don't really care, but the whole business model is sort of schkeevy. I think I am going to write an app that will intercept and change the data delivered, and really fuck these folks up.

'Its about tracking people better.' Yeah, no shit. Asshole.
posted by sfts2 at 12:41 PM on December 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


This color that I am? It is the color of a person who is unsurprised.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:41 PM on December 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


Apps sharing the most information included TextPlus 4, a popular iPhone app for text messaging. It sent the phone's unique ID number to eight ad companies and the phone's zip code, along with the user's age and gender, to two of them.

Surprise, surprise! All the dipsticks who think they are so edgy and cool because they have the latest soul-catcher from fucking Apple are nothing more than ambulatory credit card numbers to those marketing demons.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 12:42 PM on December 18, 2010 [15 favorites]


So are your URL shorteners.
posted by inigo2 at 12:44 PM on December 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


Web bugs? In my Fart Apps?
posted by boo_radley at 12:45 PM on December 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


This comes as a huge shocker. I really don't have much against this IF they tell you about it. In an ideal universe the device itself would tell you whether an app wants to send information back, but that day will never come.

I'm curious...how much money would I get it I wrote an app and sent data to eight ad companies? Are we talking about pennies or is it a significant stream?
posted by maxwelton at 12:48 PM on December 18, 2010


Surprise, surprise! All the dipsticks who think they are so edgy and cool because they have the latest soul-catcher from fucking Apple are nothing more than ambulatory credit card numbers to those marketing demons.

You haven't got a date tonight have you?
posted by i_cola at 12:50 PM on December 18, 2010 [14 favorites]


maxwelton: "This comes as a huge shocker. I really don't have much against this IF they tell you about it. In an ideal universe the device itself would tell you whether an app wants to send information back, but that day will never come.

I'm curious...how much money would I get it I wrote an app and sent data to eight ad companies? Are we talking about pennies or is it a significant stream
"

The disappointing thing is that Android's implementation of permission management is so broad: an app will say up front " I NEED WEB ACCESS " and that's it. Do you need it for data syncing? Probably not, it just wants to send data to admob. There needs to be more refinement than all or nothing.
posted by boo_radley at 12:51 PM on December 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


i_cola: "You haven't got a date tonight have you?"

Talk to me sugar, what do you have in mind?
posted by boo_radley at 12:54 PM on December 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


One partial answer to this is to limit yourself to apps and games from software developers and shops you know something about and trust. It won't be perfect protection but it should minimize your exposure--and if this is what the popular apps do, there have to be plenty out there that are worse.
posted by immlass at 12:55 PM on December 18, 2010


Surprise, surprise! All the dipsticks who think they are so edgy and cool because they have the latest soul-catcher from fucking Apple are nothing more than ambulatory credit card numbers to those marketing demons.

Wait. So Apple makes Android phones now? They really have taken over the market! Holy shit!
posted by eyeballkid at 1:00 PM on December 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


I think I am going to write an app that will intercept and change the data delivered, and really fuck these folks up.
Interestingly this will only work as long as the connection isn't SSL'd. If the app uses SSL to pass your details to third parties then it's much harder to find out. (And it makes them look more secure as well!)

Note to self: remember this trick for future apps
posted by rouftop at 1:04 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Imagine if software (you know, apps 10 years ago) had done this on computers (you know, like smart phones) before. It's like because it fits in your pocket it's suddenly a whole new ball game. I will say I was surprised that the WSJ explicitly called out MySpace and admitted its ties to it.
posted by codacorolla at 1:04 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


i dont care if it knows where i live this word lens app has been BLOWING MY MIND ALL DAY LONG
posted by nathancaswell at 1:07 PM on December 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


It's like because it fits in your pocket it's suddenly a whole new ball game.

It is, in a way: A smartphone is much easier to link to personally identifiable information than a generic computer. Furthermore, you generally keep it always on and carry it around, making the potential for data collection much higher than with a pc that sits at home or the office and is used intermittently.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:12 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Surprise, surprise! All the dipsticks who think they are so edgy and cool because they have the latest soul-catcher from fucking Apple are nothing more than ambulatory credit card numbers to those marketing demons.

if you're not thrilled by the possibilities of apps like these you're letting your bizarre hatred blind you. shit like this is extraordinarily significant and we're just scratching the surface. it makes me wish i had been born 15 years later.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:14 PM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


An examination of 101 popular smartphone "apps"—games and other software applications for iPhone and Android phones...

And the WSJ perpetuates this bizarre American belief that the iOS (and now, I guess, Android) are the only smartphone platforms in existence, and thus are the only phones with "apps."

"Apps" also exist, by the tens of thousands, for Symbian, Blackberry OS, Windows Phone, Web OS, S40, Bada, hell even Maemo. There are dozens and dozens of smartphones that aren't iPhones and dozens that do thing the iPhone can't do and dozens more that had features that dumbasses think Apple invented, like front-facing cameras and multitasking.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:15 PM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


One iPhone app, Pumpkin Maker (a pumpkin-carving game), transmits location to an ad network without asking permission.

I wonder if this is really true. When the iOS API's location manager is started, the system automatically brings up a dialog box asking if you grant the app permission to start tracking location. As a developer, I'm curious how Pumpkin Maker gets around this dialog box, without having the user jailbreak the phone or by the app using private API calls, both of which would keep the app off the App Store.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:19 PM on December 18, 2010


if you're not thrilled by the possibilities of apps like these you're letting your bizarre hatred blind you. shit like this is extraordinarily significant and we're just scratching the surface. it makes me wish i had been born 15 years later.

I'm not thrilled by this. It would be quicker than using a dictionary but it doesn't seem to be handy for much more than reading signs or a bit of a newspaper. Who would want to read a large amount of text through a phone, and it's only word for word so far... neat tech, but not "game changing" or whatever other jingo people use these days. They're still just fancy phones.
posted by glip at 1:26 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


All the dipsticks who think they are so edgy and cool because they have the latest soul-catcher from fucking Apple are nothing more than ambulatory credit card numbers to those marketing demons.

So, do you want to talk about it?
posted by nomadicink at 1:33 PM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


it doesn't seem to be handy for much more than reading signs or a bit of a newspaper.

you know, someone once asked Buddy Ryan (a football coach) about Cris Carter (a football player) and he derisively proclaimed "All he does is catch touchdowns."
posted by nathancaswell at 1:36 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


When the iOS API's location manager is started, the system automatically brings up a dialog box asking if you grant the app permission to start tracking location. As a developer, I'm curious how Pumpkin Maker gets around this dialog box

Could it get a coarse location from cell towers or wifi without alerting the user? It's not as accurate as GPS, but can give a pretty decent fix.

I ditched my iphone so I can't remember how it works. I know it has the pop-up for GPS location but I don't remember if there is any indication that an app can access a coarse location.
posted by fubaya at 1:37 PM on December 18, 2010


You haven't got a date tonight have you?
posted by i_cola at 12:50 PM on December 18 [+] [!]

How mature. Equating social acceptance with product ownership is just one of the many things that make the idiotic product fanboyz so incredibly annoying.

As for the"thrilling" world of apps, give me a break. It's a phone. Instead of cluttering up your life with a bunch of marketing crap try learning to watch where you're going when you walk down the street first.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:42 PM on December 18, 2010 [11 favorites]


Could it get a coarse location from cell towers or wifi without alerting the user?

iOS doesn't grant access to WWAN signal, but I guess you could probably use the WiFi connection, if available, to get a rough geographic location. It would be pretty blunt and inaccurate data, but I guess that's a workaround.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:43 PM on December 18, 2010


I'm reading the comments about Pandora Radio on the Android Market, and it's a storm of mostly 1 star reviews triggered by the WSJ article. Pandora still has a 4.5 star average rating, but I expect that to drop pretty quickly.

When they do stuff like send your location (I assume zip code, but GPS?) and demographic info plus your phone id to ad companies, then every permission they need even for legitimate uses (like, say, contacts so you can share your Pandora streams) gets viewed negatively by users.

Short form - if you screw up trust in one area of your app, your entire app now becomes suspect.
posted by zippy at 1:46 PM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


try learning to watch where you're going when you walk down the street first.

There's an app for that. Why so serious.
posted by Avenger50 at 1:50 PM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Instead of cluttering up your life with a bunch of marketing crap try learning to watch where you're going when you walk down the street first.

god i never looked at it that way!

these language-learning flashcard apps and dictionaries and stuff are really just cluttering up my life with marketing crap and making the sidewalks unsafe for pedestrians and here i was thinking they were just helping me to learn foreign languages enabling me to experience different cultures!

you've really opened up my eyes. i feel like rowdy roddy piper in "they live."
posted by nathancaswell at 1:52 PM on December 18, 2010 [14 favorites]


How mature. Equating social acceptance with product ownership is just one of the many things that make the idiotic product fanboyz so incredibly annoying.

Er, did you read the comment i_cola was responding to? I really don't think she/he was defending the product so much as doing a little nose-tweaking about the over-the-top fulminating quality of that comment.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:54 PM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Seriously, this is what you get when you let private businesses call the shots.

Collecting info - any info - from anybody without their express consent should be called, and treated, like what it is: theft.

A pointed finger and a "tsk,tsk" is not the proper response to this kinda shit.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:56 PM on December 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


This comes as a huge shocker. I really don't have much against this IF they tell you about it. In an ideal universe the device itself would tell you whether an app wants to send information back, but that day will never come.

Maybe Apple doesn't do this, but the Android market clearly shows what functions the app requires access to. They list Paper Toss in the article, and Paper Toss does say when you click it in the Market that it needs "Full Internet access", "Coarse (network-based) location", and "Read phone state and identity". The very things it's passing along to ad companies. So it's not that it's doing this without user knowledge, it's just asking for access to things without saying exactly why, and you can choose to grant that or not.

Could be better. Could have a full-blown privacy policy. But it's not something that's happening without user knowledge. You can't install an app off the Android market without going through the permissions screen.
posted by kafziel at 1:59 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


While in theory it's possible to filter all this stuff out by setting up a proxy and always going through that, configuring that proxy could be incredibly challenging; not only would you have to identify the servers receiving this information, but if there's overlap between these servers and the actual service you bought the app for, you'd have to pick apart the application protocols, which could be custom-built on per-provider basis, in order to supress them.

Even a very skilled hobbyist is going to find this really tough to do just for himself. There's an opportunity for someone to develop a subscription privacy service based on this, though. Probably someone who's already in the business of offering related things and has the infrastructure. Say goodbye to your network performance, though, because your latency, at least, is gonna get a lot worse.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:02 PM on December 18, 2010


"In the world of mobile, there is no anonymity," says Michael Becker of the Mobile Marketing Association, an industry trade group. A cellphone is "always with us. It's always on."

Spoken like a true marketing dickbag.

Just for once I'd like to hear one of these guys go "Yeah, you know what? That really sucks and I intend to do something about it." But no, it's always the same chirpy prick, rolling his eyes and shrugging "What are you gonna do?" I'm sure these apps are covered legally, nine ways to Sunday, for the shit they pull ("You didn't read page 14, sub-section 12 of the EULA? Hahah fuck you!") but still, man once these guys have their hands in your pockets, they go right for the nuts.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:03 PM on December 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


Smartphone users are all but powerless to limit the tracking. With few exceptions, app users can't "opt out" of phone tracking, as is possible, in limited form, on regular computers. On computers it is also possible to block or delete "cookies," which are tiny tracking files.
That's a good point. Because you control your PC you can ad extensions that do things like block ads. If people were allowed to install any software they wanted on their phones, they could put in software that could block known ad networks, even inside of advertisements, like what sfts2 was talking about:
I think I am going to write an app that will intercept and change the data delivered, and really fuck these folks up.
The problem isn't with the tracking itself, but the fact that other people control your phone. On some Android phones it's easy (and allowed) to "root" them and install whatever software you want. But since the phone companies have more control over the phones, some have taken steps to prevent it. (In fact I think the DroidX actually permanently bricks itself if you try to flash an unsigned ROM

Now we can all advocate for tighter privacy controls from Apple and Google. But ultimately those companies are just going to do whatever is in there interest not yours. On a regular computer, you can download software to do what you want (such as block ads). Same thing with Facebook.

What we actually need the option to buy devices that work for us the same way our PCs do. Also, we need self-hosted social networks instead of facebook. We can't just sit around and wait for companies to "do the right thing" because they never will.
posted by delmoi at 2:15 PM on December 18, 2010 [11 favorites]


Maybe this is a good place to ask this question. My iPad keeps popping up the dialog box asking me to input my iTunes password. This happens at any time, including when I'm using a web browser, watching a video, reading RSS feeds, or just scrolling through the desktop pages. Is there any way to figure out which app is the culprit and determine why it wants my password? I don't especially want to wipe my iPad, but I'm nervous that some bad app might be trying to send off my password to someone nefarious, and the constant popups are really annoying.
posted by painquale at 2:22 PM on December 18, 2010


Maybe Apple doesn't do this, but the Android market clearly shows what functions the app requires access to. They list Paper Toss in the article, and Paper Toss does say when you click it in the Market that it needs "Full Internet access", "Coarse (network-based) location", and "Read phone state and identity". The very things it's passing along to ad companies.
First of all, most people don't read that stuff.

And the thing is, it's my phone. Why shouldn't I be able to turn off certain features if I don't need them. Facebook actually allows you to do this granularity now. You can grant a facebook "app" (which is really just another web page) various permissions and you can revoke them on a granular level. So for example, you can remove the ability of an app to send messages.
if you're not thrilled by the possibilities of apps like these yt you're letting your bizarre hatred blind you
People have been making "Apps" for "Computers" for decades. Including lots of interesting machine vision programs. You could even get computers you could put in your pocket and carry with you (they were called PDAs).

The only difference between then and now is that they took control away from the users, and called them "smartphones." People who think we're in some brave new world because of a few cool apps are really missing the boat here. Aside from faster CPU speeds, there's really nothing going on.

In fact the stuff were getting in smartphones now is stuff that has existed on phones for years in other countries! The only difference is that Apple and Google were able to convince carriers, who control everything in the US due to the regulatory mess in this country held them back in order to try to squeeze as much money out of users while offering them as little as possible.

Wireless network neutrality would let hundreds of companies make phones, just like hundreds of companies can now make PCs and laptops. Adding cellular access to a device isn't technically much difficult then adding WiFi access, especially with SIM cards you can slip into any device.
posted by delmoi at 2:26 PM on December 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


(In fact I think the DroidX actually permanently bricks itself if you try to flash an unsigned ROM

It doesn't. All that will happen is it won't load the ROM, and it will go into recovery mode to allow you to install a signed one. But you don't need a hacked ROM to root the device, so the number of people actually affected by this is going to be minuscule. It's an open question in my mind as to whether Moto was doing this to protect the integrity of the image against being modified by a rogue app, but it's not going to "brick" the unit.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:30 PM on December 18, 2010


This happens at any time, including when I'm using a web browser, watching a video, reading RSS feeds, or just scrolling through the desktop pages. Is there any way to figure out which app is the culprit and determine why it wants my password?

In my experience, with my iPhone, this happens when there's an app that started to download / update and then it lost the net connection, and now it's randomly trying to update itself again (which requires the app store password). Sync to your computer, update the apps from there, and it should go away.

I'm not surprised with the kind of apps that they are finding these problems with.. "TextPlus 4 a popular app for text messaging"? Here's a tip; phones have SMS built in. If you have to download another app to get super-cheap rates on SMS, you are going to be fucked over in some other way. PaperToss? I've always been somehow suspicious of that app, just the language they use on it's app store page makes me suspicious. Maybe years of deleting spyware screensavers and cursor sets off relatives computers have given me an enhanced ability to smell SPAMmy malware shit. I've got an app, "Free Drum Pad", which does exactly what its name implies...except when you start it, you get the "This app wants to use your current location." pop-up...now there's no need for a drum machine to report back to home base, as far as I can tell, except for marketing purposes. So I say no. It's bleeding obvious.
posted by Jimbob at 2:34 PM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


And the WSJ perpetuates this bizarre American belief that the iOS (and now, I guess, Android) are the only smartphone platforms in existence, and thus are the only phones with "apps."

Welcome to the world of marketing mindshare.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:37 PM on December 18, 2010


Tangential: How much is that doggie in the browser window?
posted by peacay at 2:40 PM on December 18, 2010


The fact is you must assume that everything you do online or over a phoneline in America is watched and recorded, and could be used against you at any time. Any device connected to an ethernet or cell connection is potentially suspect. It may not be true, but it's very very hard to be sure, unless you have the support of an enterprise level IT security team.

When/if the black helicopters and the 3 letter agencies come (or if you are doing something that they may be interested in), first thing to do is drop the iphone in a lake. If you're on the run, don't take your location aware gadgets with you.
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:42 PM on December 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


I find it kind of weird that iPhone apps would do this, seeing as they usually pretty explicitly ask permission for this kind of information to be sent off.

But Android? I mean, isn't that Google's whole M.O.? The OS is free. The Google services are free. The Market is unmoderated. The apps (for the most part) are free and ad-based. There obviously has to be something in it for them - and that's usually your personal information, history and preferences. I kinda thought that was a given.
posted by fungible at 3:00 PM on December 18, 2010


I find it kind of weird that iPhone apps would do this, seeing as they usually pretty explicitly ask permission for this kind of information to be sent off.

But Android? I mean, isn't that Google's whole M.O.? The OS is free. The Google services are free. The Market is unmoderated. The apps (for the most part) are free and ad-based.


While I can't say it's exactly the same as IPod apps, whenever you install an Android app from the store it explicitly tells you which services it will use; you can either accept or cancel the install.
posted by inigo2 at 3:04 PM on December 18, 2010


The fact is you must assume that everything you do online or over a phoneline in America is watched and recorded, and could be used against you at any time.

It's necessary to keep us free.

But yeah, being tracked up the wazoo so that people can market shit to us is the least of our concerns now.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:07 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I assume this article is a direct result of the attention they got for the article they did about cookies. Not that it changes anything, but it's basically "It's 10pm, do you know what your phone is sending to marketing companies right now?"

I haven't owned a phone in over a year. It's not that big a deal if you live on a tiny island (that's not Manhattan).
posted by snofoam at 3:13 PM on December 18, 2010


Between /etc/hosts and Firewall iP, there's never been a better time to jailbreak your iDevice. It's surprising which apps think they need to access my WiFi connection.
posted by sysinfo at 3:21 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


We've known abot this problem for a while now. Can someone with more free time than me please do something about it? Make a firewall app? Compile an auto-updating threatlevel list?

In exchange, we'll make you a millionaire.

Fair deal?
posted by -harlequin- at 3:22 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much of this is flat-out illegal in, say, the EU, which has quite strict privacy laws. I expect the answer is "quite a lot of it", and Apple and Google are following their usual, "Fuck you, I don't care about your laws" approach to internationalisation...
posted by rodgerd at 3:53 PM on December 18, 2010


Apple and Google are following their usual, "Fuck you, I don't care about your laws" approach to internationalisation...

Is this an issue for Apple/Google, or the developers of the apps that do this sort of thing?
posted by inigo2 at 3:59 PM on December 18, 2010


Is this an issue for Apple/Google, or the developers of the apps that do this sort of thing?

According to Apple's developer agreement transmitting the user info, device identifier ("UDID"), or the GPS data without the user's permission is not kosher. In fact technically there is no API for directly accessing the user info, and the GPS info will put up a alert informing the user (and under new versions of iOS the developer should be displaying a reason why the app is using the GPS).

So if developers are gathering this info and sending it to third party servers they're breaking their developer agreement. Apple can and will reject apps that violate the agreement but it's very hard to detect all violations.

While I can't link to the agreement (you need to be a member to view it) I can link to the guidelines, which explains the privacy requirements with a lot less legalize.
posted by schwa at 4:19 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh what the hell - here's the verbage from the agreement: "You and Your Applications may not collect user or device data without prior user consent, and then only to provide a service or function that is directly relevant to the use of the Application, or to serve advertising. You may not use analytics software in Your Application to collect and send device data to a third party"
posted by schwa at 4:22 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


One iPhone app, Pumpkin Maker (a pumpkin-carving game), transmits location to an ad network without asking permission. Apple declines to comment on whether the app violated its rules.

Yeah, wouldn't want to clear that up or anything.
posted by mediareport at 4:23 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


without the user's permission

When you install an app on the iPhone, does it give the user a popup showing what sort of stuff would be accessed? Because the second half of that phrase ("or to serve advertising") implies to me that as long as the user is notified when they installed an app, then Apple (and Google, on the Android side) wouldn't care one bit what happens.

And re-reading the verbiage -- the "advertising" portion and the "third party" portion seem to contradict each other. I don't get it...
posted by inigo2 at 4:27 PM on December 18, 2010


these language-learning flashcard apps and dictionaries and stuff are really just cluttering up my life with marketing crap and making the sidewalks unsafe for pedestrians and here i was thinking they were just helping me to learn foreign languages enabling me to experience different cultures!

Gee, it's such a shame that computers can't do that. Oh wait. They can, and without sending 18 real-time-and-space reports to marketing scum-buckets to boot. You don't need to do that shit on the sidewalk or in your car or a restaurant, but that doesn't prevent piles of pinheads from doing so.

I'll tell you what's thrilling. Fresh un-tracked powder on a sunny morning. A sublime meal prepared by a fabulous chef. Hot licks screaming from the fretboard of a skilled bottle-neck slide guitar player. A fabulously-lit, seamlessly set, and gut-wrenchingly emotional scene performed by a skilled-actor, then sublimely edited.

All of these experiences are things I've enjoyed in the last week, and while doing so have observed technology-obsessed people around me ignoring, while they instead dick around with their idiotic devices. Lennon was ahead of the curve when he so astutely observed "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

All this functionality is fine, in its place, but vast legions of people are so busy "networking" that they don't actually engage with what is happening in the moment they are in.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:52 PM on December 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


Between /etc/hosts and Firewall iP, there's never been a better time to jailbreak your iDevice.

Well, not to quibble, but a time when there in fact exists a known (untethered) jailbreak for the current iOS release would be a better time to jailbreak your device.
posted by enn at 5:18 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, wouldn't want to clear that up or anything.

If I were a PR drone that got hit with that, I'd want to run it past technical guys (and possibly legal) before taking any action. They do enough random pulling of apps as it is; let's not encourage Apple to jerk apps out of the store on random people's say-so, even if the random people are the Wall Street Journal.
posted by immlass at 5:19 PM on December 18, 2010


Well, not to quibble

Fair enough, I wrote poorly and retract it (hopefully my original comment will be less incorrect within a week.)
posted by sysinfo at 5:57 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I knew there had to be a reason Angry Birds was so addictive.
posted by jnaps at 6:07 PM on December 18, 2010


Firewall apps won't matter if the app is sending info to the app-maker's server to then be resent to the ad networks.

What I really want is a firewall between apps and things like location services. So if Pandora wants to grab my location, the firewall app notifies me and allows me to block that call (or stuff it with fake info).
posted by zippy at 6:31 PM on December 18, 2010


Welcome to the free market beeatch.

Yes, ads are still pretty slimy as much as networks like AdMob try to clean it up. Lots of ad networks want every single thing they can possibly get on the user (gender, education, income, race, location, phone ID) and many ad networks are insufficiently moderated. So besides having your information blasted to an ad aggregator, you also be served ads that might shapeshift from a nice one about puppies, and then 20 page views later (after they assume the review process has passed) they shift to a phone/SMS scam ad.

The more I look at Apple the more I respect their decision about things. Their ad network is tightly controlled, yes, but there's also no malware. There are some places where they could tighten up things (the easy harvesting of contact lists is one example) but it's nowhere near Android's "click YES to have this app rape your system" that most users will just blindly press to get the cute unicorn wallpaper.

But you know .. if you have a PC, it's probably uploading your Quicken files to China anyway. So mobile phones are a step in the right direction.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:25 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you have a rooted Android phone you can install Droidwall which has a simple interface to only allow whitelisted apps access to the network. It will block (or allow) the whole app, so you can't just block advertising information on a Twitter client (for example) but most apps don't need network access to work, and those that do, you can consciously choose to allow.

Presumably iOS has something similar.
posted by markr at 7:53 PM on December 18, 2010


All of these experiences are things I've enjoyed in the last week, and while doing so have observed technology-obsessed people around me ignoring, while they instead dick around with their idiotic devices.

He said, on the Internet.
posted by Marty Marx at 9:08 PM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


One partial answer to this is to limit yourself to apps and games from software developers and shops you know something about and trust.

Curious, immlass - how do you get to know something about and trust software developers? It's not like a brick&board store, where you see the owner every day as he makes you a latte, or the cute employee helps you find a mystery novel you want. I have software from kajillions of makers on my PC - how on earth can I tell whom to trust? (OK, sure: some reveal themselves as sleazy during the downloads, or shortly after install, but generally...)


And, to PareidoliaticBoy: you're really very angry, and clearly get a feeling of superiority from looking down on those who choose to engage the world differently than you choose to. May I suggest Xanax?
posted by IAmBroom at 10:08 PM on December 18, 2010


PareidoliaticBoy some of us are too busy just trying to survive to experience the sublime untracked powder you enjoy so much. We have to twiddle our devices in order to keep the lights on. Glad you are lovin' life though.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:23 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


There used to be a mac program called little snitch that would pop up and give you the choice of letting your apps talk to the world. I need this for my phone.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:20 AM on December 19, 2010


PareidoliaticBoy was just being hyperbolic until everyone started having a pop at him. Calm down people. What he said was funny. No need to tell him he needs meds or sex.
posted by seanyboy at 1:23 AM on December 19, 2010


PareidoliaticBoy some of us are too busy just trying to survive to experience the sublime untracked powder you enjoy so much. We have to twiddle our devices in order to keep the lights on. Glad you are lovin' life though.
I have a smartphone, but I only use a few apps on it, nothing that actually tracks me or even shows me any ads. I'm not really sure why you would need apps like that to 'survive'.
posted by delmoi at 3:24 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I... I would like both meds and sex.
posted by boo_radley at 8:20 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


how do you get to know something about and trust software developers? It's not like a brick&board store, where you see the owner every day as he makes you a latte, or the cute employee helps you find a mystery novel you want.

I do a bit of investigation of the independent app makers, read their blogs and twitters, check out their web sites, that kind of thing. I almost never use games (exception: Words With Friends, which I'm pretty sure is on an ad plan, but I enjoy enough to put up with it), so I just don't buy/download them. For non-game apps that I buy, like Instapaper, it's not that hard to click through from the app store (or google or whatever) and find out something about the company/developer.

The key is not to clutter up your phone. If you wait until you have a use for an app instead of getting it now because it's k3wl and might be fun/interesting, it's a lot easier to take the time to look around a little and decide whether the developer is a sleaze or you can trust his app not to do whatever thing you may be concerned about.
posted by immlass at 8:51 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


We have to twiddle our devices in order to keep the lights on

Really. Do tell. Your job requires you to use apps only available on a phone, you say? Love to hear about it. I'll be the person not holding their breath waiting for an answer.

And, to PareidoliaticBoy: you're really very angry, and clearly get a feeling of superiority from looking down on those who choose to engage the world differently than you choose to. May I suggest Xanax?

Am I irritated by pinheads who pull their phone out on the chairlift and start babbling about "OMG THE HOT GUY I MET IN THE CLUB" instead of enjoying the beauty and stillness of the mountains? Absolutely. Does it annoy me when some idiot can't be bothered to watch where they're going? Yep. That's not "enaging the world differently". That's being a self-centered dipshit. But it doesn't make me angry enough to personally attack other commenter's sexual ability or mental equilibrium. I choose to leave that kind of juvenile behavior to sophisticates like you and icola.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:26 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seriously, PareidoliaticBoy - why so angry? Despite your lumping of all of these people together with the worst behaviors in the lot, people using apps and mobile devices (and even - GASP!!!! Apple products! Can we even say that word here?!) doesn't hurt you, with rare exceptions.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:11 AM on December 19, 2010


"But yeah, being tracked up the wazoo so that people can market shit to us is the least of our concerns now."

Frankly, while the individual consequences aren't as high as, say, the government using this information to target activists (which much as Bush made Nixon look good, Nixon would have done), that these apps are so popular and pervasive makes this more of a concern, at least for me. Especially combined with the MIT study (it was MIT, wasn't it?) that did the data mining in census records, and realizing that a lot of this stuff is one database search away from actually tying it to personal identity.

With the trends we've seen in technology adoption, smart phones will be the norm before too long because the stuff that they can do is pretty amazing, and I remember the same anti-smart phone rants being applied to cell phones in general when they were narrowly adopted. If there isn't a strong lobby for consumer privacy protection, we'll have another situation like EULAs, where the sheer overwhelming momentum of anti-consumer, anti-public policy becomes something just grudgingly accepted and nominally legal.

Further, it's worth getting concerned about this because it's not like there are anti-privacy forces (the police, intelligence agencies, the military, etc.) who won't adopt things innovated by the "free market" here with cell phones. And think about that as smart phones become the norm in places with even more pressing needs for democratic or liberal reform — while the privilege of living in the West largely means freedom to use communication devices to organize protests, reforms, whatever, that's not really true in, say, China or Iran. By working to normalize the idea of mobile privacy again, or at least anonymity, in the West, we can use our power as a market to expand the European suspicion of corporate data collection into a more broad, viable model for other nations who have development choices left to make.
posted by klangklangston at 11:37 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Am I irritated by pinheads who pull their phone out on the chairlift and start babbling about "OMG THE HOT GUY I MET IN THE CLUB" instead of enjoying the beauty and stillness of the mountains? Absolutely.

I'm irritated by shit like that, certainly, but the technology is not a necessary component for that to happen. The technology is not the problem. The problem is the assholes who use the technology. Smartphones disappearing off the face of the earth would not make irritating behavior go away.
posted by blucevalo at 11:57 AM on December 19, 2010


Smartphones disappearing off the face of the earth would not make irritating behavior go away.

No, but it would diminish significantly. Were I in charge, all Apple products would be sealed in a radioactive container and launched into the Sun. Then, we'd probe their former owner's craniums for brain damage. For their own good, naturally.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 10:20 PM on December 19, 2010


I'm sold.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 10:59 PM on December 19, 2010


Were I in charge, all Apple products would be sealed in a radioactive container and launched into the Sun. Then, we'd probe their former owner's craniums for brain damage. For their own good, naturally.

Cool story bro.

--

I'm a little surprised with how much data Pandora sends. I use that as the radio in my car. The service is worth it to me so I don't mind so much but it would be good if they were a little more upfront with what they are doing with the data and what data they are collecting.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:30 PM on December 19, 2010


A smartphone is much easier to link to personally identifiable information than a generic computer. Furthermore, you generally keep it always on and carry it around, making the potential for data collection much higher than with a pc that sits at home or the office and is used intermittently.

Seriously. I'm always amazed by those people who disdain Facebook, etc. as privacy nightmares ... then use a cell phone without a thought.

(I'm also amazed by how much attention Pandora gets, when Last.fm radio is far superior (for us in the U.S.). I'm sure Last.fm spams just as much, but at least there are no interstitial ads. Bigger and better music library on Last.fm, imo.)

And the WSJ perpetuates this bizarre American belief that the iOS (and now, I guess, Android) are the only smartphone platforms in existence, and thus are the only phones with "apps."

iOS (or Android, not sure yet) is the new Windows. And phones are the new PCs.

And Apps are so 2009. Away from the "cloud" and back to the browser-based "web" in 2011, please. I don't think we're done with the Web yet.

if you have a PC, it's probably uploading your Quicken files to China anyway. So mobile phones are a step in the right direction.

Am I safe if I'm running a firewall and don't have any Quicken files?
posted by mrgrimm at 8:50 AM on December 20, 2010


A world without Pandora radio is not one I'm sure is worth living in. I didn't read the article too closely, but if the sharing isn't turned off with a Pandora One subscription, I'll be a bit dismayed. I've always assumed the free game-lets|apps were raping your personal data stream and give them a wide berth. It's naïve, but I sort of believe that the fee/subscription apps are more respectful of that information.
posted by Fezboy! at 10:26 AM on December 20, 2010


mrgrimm: "Am I safe if I'm running a firewall and don't have any Quicken files?"

You're in the most trouble of all :\
posted by boo_radley at 12:30 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


CNET: Apple sued over privacy in iPhone, iPad apps
posted by peacay at 5:50 PM on December 29, 2010


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