Posted By C.Lucia 2/28/12
In a report from the London Sunday Times released 2/26/12, accusations were made against the social media giant, Facebook, which stipulated they have been misusing their native app and reading text messages on smartphones that have the app installed. Facebook quickly denied the claim and made a statement proclaiming their non-involvement. According to the Times, the info was gathered to assist Facebook with launching their own messaging center. The report in the Times sited Yahoo Messenger and Flickr as well, stating they were reading SMS (Short Message Service) using their apps.
We live in a non-private world and it’s getting worse. I am not going to hazard an opinion whether Facebook read texts or not, but they posses the technology to do that and right now there is virtually nothing stopping them. The end of last year Facebook came to an agreement with the FTC and settled over an eight count complaint including sharing personal user information with third parties without their consent and randomly changing privacy policies without consulting their user base. They reached a settlement and the issue has not been revisited. They have been in good standing since then. Earlier this year Path, a mobile social network designed to be an alternative to Facebook, uploaded users address books onto their servers creating quite a commotion. They say they “use the information to help connect friends and family more efficiently.” Path has since made apologies and will notify users of the upload prior to this happening on its new app out now.
A lot of mobile apps are very intrusive and can access not only texts, but photos, address books, user location, and other personal files you may have on your tablet or smartphone. Having your data does not mean Internet firms like Facebook, Yahoo! Messenger and Flickr can access it at will, for any reason, or submit it to third parties. The user of the app is entitled to an expectation of privacy by these companies and should not be exploited for monetary gain through targeted ads or technological advances.
Privacy statements, if they exist with apps, are complicated and often users do not take time to read them before downloading an app. They do not realize the value their information has for these companies and the extent to which they can crawl inside your world without you even knowing it. According to Facebook, their native app has a read/write clause whereby they can access the information for testing purposes only. They cannot submit it to third parties. Following their original statement of denial, Facebook issued a second statement as follows: “Facebook is currently running a limited test of mobile features which integrates SMS functionality. SMS read/write is not currently implemented for most users of the mobile app. As part of this test, we declared the presence of that functionality within our app store permission starting with the 1.7 version of our application. If Facebook ultimately launches any feature that makes use of these permissions, we will ensure that this is accompanied by appropriate guidance/educational materials.”
The smartphone app mishandling of personal user information has started a campaign for tougher policies from companies with mobile apps. These policies will require companies to better disclose the risks to their users and properly display privacy policies prior to installing their services on a mobile device. President Obama stated: “As the Internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy.” On Feb 23, President Obama announced they will be attempting to pass a consumers’ Bill of Rights. This sounds nice and tidy, but the results of such a bill are doubtful. Industry leaders taking voluntary action and implementing things like Do Not Track enabled browsers is the only hope for consumer online privacy. Google recently announced putting a “Do Not Track” button on its Chrome browser.