A Random Round-up of Privacy and Surveillance Stuff

#BeAppSafe Banner

Yesterday Canadian carrier TELUS launched a campaign in partnership with the Canadian Government’s “Get Cyber Safe” initiative called #BeAppSafe.

“Cyber”? Really…?

Among other things the campaign seeks to educate smartphone users about app permissions—and I’m all about protecting your data from egregious app permissions. Rather than just copy and paste the press release from TELUS, I’m going to go a bit further and share some additional privacy-related stuff that I’ve been sitting on for a bit. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s get to it!

The gist of the #BeAppSafe campaign boils down to these six tips:

1. Only download apps from trusted sources, such as app stores: Avoid downloading apps that may contain malicious code to steal your personal information.

2. Keep your operating system up to date: Protect your mobile device from hackers by accepting software updates, and consider installing security software.

3. Check the permissions and privacy settings for all apps and games you download: Make sure you are aware of what personal information is being collected and shared.

4. Turn off tracking apps on your smartphone: Learn how to disable the geo-tagging feature and only turn on GPS when you need to use it so that strangers don’t know where you are and when you’re not at home.

5. Set strong passwords: Don’t make it easy for someone to access your phone or your account. Change passwords regularly and lock your phone or set it to automatically lock when not in use for a certain amount of time.

6. Don’t click on suspicious links: Avoid scams by only clicking on trusted links and replying to callers or text messages from people that you know.

Makes sense, right? Turning off geo-tagging on you photos is especially important if you don’t want everyone on the Internet to know where you live.

Next up, another hashtag in a very similar vein. Here’s a video from #PrivacyProject:

It was produced by the makers of Blackphone, a Android device powered by a ROM called—I shit you not—PrivatOS. The weird thing about this video is that the passers-by all seem to be using iPhones, and iOS, as I understand it, has a pretty good permissions manager at the system level.

I found this fairly recent piece on ZDNet comparing how Android, iOS and Windows deal with app permissions. TL;DR if your Android ROM doesn’t have some implementation of AppOps out of the box then you’re putting your personal data at risk.

If we go a little further down the rabbit hole we end up in the murky waters of government surveillance. This lengthy and informative infographic was posted by Reverse Phone Lookup, for some reason:

Spy Phone Infographic

The unfortunate fact is that software freedom activist Richard Stallman is exactly right when he refers to the mobile phone as “the perfect portable surveillance device“. If you care about your government spying on your phone my suggestion would be to support an activist organization like the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the United States, or Open Media here in Canada.

(Disclaimer: I do some volunteer work for Open Media on the side… #humblebrag)