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Smartphone apps are target of a US privacy investigation

Smartphone apps are target of a US privacy investigation

Mark Zuckerberg on The Onion News Network
Pandora disclosed in an amended filing related to their upcoming $100 million public offering that a US Federal grand jury has requested information regarding how its customer data is used. They do not believe they are the main target since subpoenas were issued to other Android and iOS app developers. Pandora seems to be the least invasive of privacy compared to many other apps out there. Facebook, anyone?

There was an excellent discussion on yesterday's episode of TWiT regarding app privacy policies. Robert Scoble discussed how Color, the photo app famous mostly because of its superstar talent and $41 million venture capital investment, records audio in order to make a wave form audio signature of an event. However, there is no mention of them sneakily turning on your iPhone's mic and uploading audio to their servers.

This raises alarm bells on two levels. The app certainly does not make the user aware that it is doing this and as of this writing it is not mentioned in their privacy policy. Secondly, what else is being done with that recording besides creating a signature to piece together event information? Leo Laporte noted that it has been shown that those types of audio signature files, including ones gathered via VoIP packets, a la Skype, contain enough information to decipher more than 50% of a conversation. Another guest, Becky Worley, noted that she uses an app which records her television audio in order to synchronize simulcast information to an iPad while watching Grey's Anatomy – a relatively harmless, and cool feature with the potential to scrape a gold mine of demographic information. Legal expert, Denise Howell noted that privacy laws regarding mobile apps are virtually "wide-open" and it seems there hasn't been much, if any, legal precedence. Hence the US Federal Grand Jury probe of Pandora and others.

There is a lot at stake here for companies to gather a wealth of personal information from which to profit. Personally, this is one of the reasons I like supporting smaller app developers who actually charge a bit of money for their efforts. Those personalized Facebook ads are just creepy.

What do you think? Should an app be allowed to turn on your phone's mic and submit audio recordings without your knowledge or consent? Or have we already submitted to the automatic opt-in paradigm that has become so commonplace in social media apps? It certainly makes the CIA's job easier.

It all makes sense now why Facebook isn't being probed.

via Reuters and TWiT 295