Snooping: Mobile Apps, The Cloud and Data Privacy

We are about to embark on some major work which will involve using mobile applications and storing data on people. As we are ethically nice people we have all sorts of policies in place about the use, storage and ultimately deletion of data. However as ZDNet point out we are increasing sharing data with third parties without even realising it. In the case of Google they are apparently sharing your personal data with third parties, even if this apparently is not in the terms of use. This means some dodgy app provider could end up with a fair chunk of your personal information. Also keep in mind that that the Android Play Store is not as well policed as the Apple App store, so the chances of ending up with something nasty is higher. Also if you have a cheaper tablet etc then the chances are that you will be asked to use third-party app stores which are even less trustworthy.

Recently like many people I also find myself making ever more use of cloud apps such as Evernote, Google Drive, Dropbox and no doubt a few more besides. They for the most part make the online world much easier to work with and offer excellent services at a low price. I find them very useful in cases where I want to access data across platforms. In my case I use IOS, Android, Mac, Windows and Linux every day. However, not many people are fully aware of the implications of using these services. For example many are based in the US which has far less data privacy rules in place than the EC. The same incidentally is a problem whenever you use Amex, Visa or Mastercard as your data will pass through these American companies servers in the USA. In effect making the data privacy laws here almost useless. A recent article on the BBC points to the growing concern this sharing of data is causing. For example the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendment Act (FISAAA) allows the US Government to basically view your data with impunity on intelligence grounds. Also the court order to collect your data is issued in secret so no one even has an idea how many people or who is being snooped on.  Interestingly the power to grab your data applies specifically to foreign nationals living outside the US whose data resides on US servers Рindeed according to the BBC the cloud providers are compelled to hand over this data on request.

“The fibre-optic cable that carries the data is split and a miniature supercomputer scans all the data in real-time with any material of possible interest being instantly copied to the NSA [National Security Agency],” said Mr Bowden. (source BBC).

Perhaps even more frightening in terms of data privacy is that all data is automatically scanned by the National Security Agency (see quote above). This is not really a surprise but is perhaps even more worrying than covert court orders and only serves to make me question whether we should trust our data to US cloud services at all? In my case the worst info they will probably find out is that I don’t really like the US tea party fruitcakes; which in my view puts me in with the sane 99.99% of the world’s population. Ultimately though the USAs emphasis on snooping will only encourage people to look for other more private cloud solutions where there data is not handed over with impunity and in the end this will hurt the profits of US cloud providers.


About Rod McCall

Rod McCall is a researcher in the field of human-computer interaction in areas such as augmented reality, mobile gaming in-car systems and virtual environments. He has a passing interest in economics after not being entirely convinced by the rubbish presented as fact during lectures on that particular subject while at uni.
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