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Smartphones / Apps : How Far Is Far Enough?

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A stunning news on a news daily, relating to an App Interface of a very popular service brand, caught my attention : Uber may have been secretly recording your iPhone screen, even when the app is closed. Will Strafach, a New York-based security researcher, discovered that the taxi hailing app had received a special permission from Apple to access the screen-recording feature. The company, however, rejected the security breach fears, stating the code was installed to improve the experience on Apple Watch version of the app.

 

Now this is frankly stupidity on a colossal scale; accessing a user’s screen even when the app is closed … where are we going as an industry? By what stretch of imagination, strategy, morality or intelligence is this an advance? How far are we going to allow apps, internet and computers into our lives? This has now lead me to question the entire Smartphone aspect : I think there is a need for users to take their personal lives off the Smartphone. This has happened on Apple; how long before someone does it for Android? And it is already being done? We have no way of knowing! We, the Telecom, Smartphone, App industry have gone half a dozen steps too far. Calling for introspection!

 

 

THE EXTENT OF INTRUSION

It isn’t a question of the specific platform as much as it is a question of the extent of intrusion technology has on our lives, and the potential of possible misuse. Now Apple iOS is a very different thing to Android; hence – I am not making any insinuation, or comparison, for one cannot be made. The point is the potential capability of an app to intrude into the most basic aspect of your lives – a smartphone is nowadays an extension of your personal space; intruding into it in such less-obvious ways is not acceptable, and fraught with risks associated with data hacking and privacy loss.

 

A QUESTION OF PRIVACY

Neither is it a question solely of this particular instance – as a simple google search will reveal, or a few days playing around in the app store for that matter. Even Credit Card information has been hacked more than a few times; thus, data security is one aspect of this. On the Desktop / Laptop versions, viruses have proven their intrusive capability; with their myriad types capable of cracking into the remotest part of your system, and accessing the most protected systems. We have our whole lives, right upto the Banking details, stored on our smartphones – which increases the risk profile of applications on smartphones manifold.

 

THIS IS A BUSINESS RISK

The key issue is “secretly” as the article reveals… meaning, as far as I can interpret, the users had no knowledge of this. And this is from a top and famous brand; which is deeply questionable on more parameters than I care to count. Further, keylogging – recording each keystroke – is eminently feasible; a smartphone is, after all, a software; and an app that can stay resident in memory and record everything secretly is old hat; such apps have been around for longer than I learnt to program! The vital issue is doing something on my device – note that, please – dear app developers and programmers, MY device, without my permission – how stupid, how amoral, how magnificently idiotic and how short-term is that?

 

The amorality is clear – you are giving yourself the ability to access the personal aspects of someone without his or her knowledge; the other aspect – short-termism –  is less apparent. In the modern world, how long before someone discovers what your app does? Evidence above! And what will the discovery of this do to your brand perception? How many users do you stand to lose? How can a responsible company dream of doing something on privacy without informing the customers? Doing anything along privacy issues is fraught with immense risk; and is not to be taken lightly. Sadly, this is a lesson we in the Smartphone trade have yet to fully absorb, it would seem.

 

HOW FAR IS FAR ENOUGH?

How far is far enough? How far do we go before we, the trade, start to question ourselves, start to ask ourselves where do we draw the line? We don’t need to go too far – just think on long term perspectives and analyse. If my trade is thinking people wont find out – that is not feasible in the long or mid run; people are bound to find out sooner or later. There are people outside companies who are equally good or better than your people, and will reveal, sooner or later. And then – you stand to lose. Remember that. And neither is this limited to just the app permission, or privacy, as my future articles will go into deeper – there is a dire need to improve the user experience, but more of that later. For now – let me close with one question – for how far is far enough?

BIBLIOGRAPHY

HT Article – Uber app can secretly record your iPhone screen, security researcher reveals

IMAGE CREDIT – Google Search

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