Own an Android smartphone? Some app providers have been accused of sharing your personal data with advertisers, and without clear consent. Another day, another story of user data being shared without permission…
So, the first shock is that some Android app developers seem to have allowed advertisers to get hold of the data on your phone.
The second shock is that the data made available includes your contacts, where you’ve been (location data) and even your calendar entries.
And the third shock – you might have agreed to it when downloading the app. It was likely in the T&Cs – the ones you could barely read on your handset and which ran into pages of legalese.
Permission to access data on your phone?
Channel 4 News found that popular apps using the MobClix ad network, having sought permission to access data on your phone, would also share this information with advertisers.
But, to me, none of this is really surprising.
This has happened in similar guises for the last few years – just look at the investigations carried out by the Wall Street Journal in its great ‘What They Know’ series and the recent headlines about Facebook, Apple, Google and Twitter – is there a tech giant out there that hasn’t come under the limelight for sharing personal data?
What is shocking is that this is still happening – and it seems from a UK perspective – little, if nothing, is being done.
T&Cs – legal comfort blankets?
As a lawyer, I imagine that the immediate defence from these companies will be that there are T&Cs for consumers to agree to and ‘good practice guidelines’ for app developers to read through. Google has pointed out that app developers must warn users with a list of what the app will gain access to when you install it, but do you read these before installing apps? Do you know exactly what you’re agreeing to?
Plus, these legal comfort blankets clearly aren’t doing the job. What are they worth if there isn’t going to be stringent monitoring and enforcement of these rules? Not only by the companies but also by our privacy regulator – the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – as these practices appear pretty much in breach of our data protection legislation. Can someone please hold them to account?
Channel 4 News does point out that it’s possible that MobClix isn’t actually storing the data, and it’s not clear whether app makers themselves actually know what’s in their advertising code.
Still, I can’t help thinking that we made these companies the immensely global tech success stories that they are today by originally entrusting them with our information. Don’t they at least owe us the reassurance that when we continue to engage with their services they won’t put our privacy at such risk?