Mobile penetration is extremely high in Canada. 78% of Canadian households had a mobile phone in 2010, in young households 50% exclusively have mobiles, and 33% of Canadians generally lack landlines. Given that mobile phones hold considerably more information than ‘dumb’ landlines and are widely dispersed it is important to consider their place in our civil communications landscape. More specifically, I think we must consider the privacy and security implications associated with contemporary mobile communications devices.
In this post I begin by outlining a series of smartphone-related privacy concerns, focusing specifically on location, association, and device storage issues. I then pivot to a recent – and widely reported – survey commissioned by Canada’s federal privacy commissioner’s office. I assert that the reporting inappropriately offloads security and privacy decisions to consumers who are poorly situated to – and technically unable to – protect their privacy or secure their mobile devices. I support this by pointing to intentional exploitations of users’ ignorance about how mobile applications interact with their device environments and residing data. While the federal survey may be a useful rhetorical tool I argue that it has limited practical use.
I conclude by asserting that privacy commissioners, and government regulators more generally, must focus their attention upon the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) of smartphones. Only by focusing on APIs will we redress the economics of ignorance that are presently relied upon to exploit Canadians and cheat them out of their personal information.
There is an ongoing push to ‘better’ monetize the mobile marketplace. In this near-future market, wireless providers use DPI and other Quality of Service equipment to charge subscribers for each and every action they take online. The past few weeks have seen Sandvine and other vendors talk about this potential, and Rogers has begun testing the market to determine if mobile customers will pay for data prioritization. The prioritization of data is classified as a network neutrality issue proper, and one that demands careful consideration and examination.
In this post, I’m not talking about network neutrality. Instead, I’m going to talk about what supposedly drives prioritization schemes in Canada’s wireless marketplace: congestion. Consider this a repartee to the oft-touted position that ‘wireless is different’: ISPs assert that wireless is different than wireline for their own regulatory ends, but blur distinctions between the two when pitching ‘congestion management’ schemes to customers. In this post I suggest that the congestion faced by AT&T and other wireless providers has far less to do with data congestion than with signal congestion, and that carriers have to own responsibility for the latter.
I’ve written a fair bit about mobile phones; they’re considerable conveniences that are accompanied by serious security, privacy, and technical deficiencies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Apple’s iPhone has received a considerable amount of criticism in the press and by industry because of the Apple aura of producing ‘excellent’ products combined with the general popularity of their mobile device lines.
In this short post I want to revisit two issues I’ve previously written about: the volume of information that the iPhone emits when attached to WiFi networks and its contribution to carriers’ wireless network congestion. The first issue is meant to further document here, for my readers and my own projects, just how much information the iPhone makes available to third-parties. The second, however, reveals that a technical solution resolves the underlying cause of wireless congestion associated with Apple products. Thus, trapping customers into bucket-based data plans in response to congestion primarily served financial bottom lines instead of customers’ interests. This instance of leveraging an inefficient (economic) solution to a technical problem might, then, function as a good example of the difference between ‘reasonable technical management’ that is composed of technical and business goals versus the management of just the network infrastructure itself.
An increasing percentage of Western society is carrying a computer with them, everyday, that is enabled with geo-locative technology. We call them smartphones, and they’re cherished pieces of technology. While people are (sub)consciously aware of this love-towards-technology, they’re less aware of how these devices are compromising their privacy, and that’s the topic of this post.
Recent reports on the state of the iPhone operating system show us that the device’s APIs permit incredibly intrusive surveillance of personal behaviour and actions. I’ll be walking through those reports and then writing somewhat more broadly about the importance of understanding how APIs function if scrutiny of phones, social networks, and so forth is to be meaningful. Further, I’ll argue that privacy policies – while potentially useful for covering companies’ legal backends – are less helpful in actually educating end-users about a corporate privacy ethos. These policies, as a result, need to be written in a more accessible format, which may include a statement of privacy ethics that is baked into a three-stage privacy statement.
iOS devices, such as the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV 2.0, and iPod touch, have Unique Device Identifiers (UDIDs) that can be used to discretely track how customers use applications associated with the device. A recent technical report, written by Eric Smith of PSKL, has shed light into how developers can access a device UDID and correlate it with personally identifiable information. UDIDs are, in effect, serial numbers that are accessible by software. Many of the issues surrounding the UDID are arguably similar to those around the Pentium III’s serial codes (codes which raised the wrath of the privacy community and were quickly discontinued. Report on PIII privacy concerns is available here).
Apple’s entrance into the mobile advertising marketplace was born with their announcement of iAd. Alongside iAd comes persistent locational surveillance of Apple’s customers for the advantage of advertisers and Apple. The company’s advertising platform is controversial because Apple gives it a privileged position in their operating system, iOS4, and because the platform can draw on an iPhone’s locational awareness (using the phone’s GPS functionality) to deliver up targeted ads.
In this post I’m going to first give a brief background on iAd and some of the broader issues surrounding Apple’s deployment of their advertising platform. From there, I want to recap what Steve Jobs stated in a recent interview at the All Things Digital 8 concerning how Apple approaches locational surveillance through their mobile devices and then launch into an analysis of Apple’s recently changed terms of service for iOS4 devices as it relates to collecting, sharing, and retaining records on an iPhone’s geographic location. I’ll finish by noting that Apple may have inadvertently gotten itself into serious trouble as a result of its heavy-handed control of the iAd environment combined with modifying the privacy-related elements of their terms of service: Apple seems to have awoken the German data protection authorities. Hopefully the Germans can bring some transparency to a company regularly cloaked in secrecy.
Apple launched the iAd beta earlier this year and integrates the advertising platform into their mobile environment such that ads are seen within applications, and clicking on ads avoids taking individuals out of the particular applications that the customers are using. iAds can access core iOS4 functionality, including locational information, and can be coded using HTML 5 to provide rich advertising experiences. iAd was only made possible following Apple’s January acquisition of Quattro, a mobile advertising agency. Quattro was purchased after Apple was previously foiled in acquiring AdMob by Google last year (with the FTC recently citing iAd as a contributing reason why the Google transaction was permitted to go through). Ostensibly, the rich advertising from iAds is intended to help developers produce cheap and free applications for Apple’s mobile devices while retaining a long-term, ad-based, revenue stream. Arguably, with Apple taking a 40% cut of all advertising revenue and limiting access to the largest rich-media mobile platform in the world, advertising makes sense for their own bottom line and its just nice that they can ‘help’ developers along the way… Continue reading
Skype is a polarizing product for telecom operators and customers. It is an application that lets customers abandon their historical phone services in favour of an encrypted Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communications service that provides ‘free’ calls to computers and cheap rates when making a Skype-to-analogue/cellular phone service. For customers, it extends the choices presented to them and potentially reduces their monthly phone expenses.
The iPhone application for Skype has made headlines as telecom and smartphone manufacturers alike have actively and passively resisted, and ultimately relented, to permitting customers make Skype calls from their iPhones and other mobile devices. Apple has stated that they will not ‘jump through hoops’ to ensure that VoIP applications work through successive operating system updates, and AT&T’s poor data transmission systems likely made them somewhat hesitant to allow another bandwidth-heavy service onto their networks. What really got me interested in the Skype iPhone application, as a Canadian, was the following:
- Canadian customers can now install Skype on their iPhones;
- There was no place on the web that informed Skype users of how much data was consumed by the iPhone application when in use.
It was #2 that was particularly interesting. Canadian consumers tend to have fairly low default bandwidth caps with Rogers, the primary carrier of the iPhone in Canada, at 1GB in the basic iPhone plan. My thought was this: if the iPhone application actually consumed massive amounts of data Rogers would:
- Make a killing on the likely data overages as early adopters shifted over to Skype VoIP in favour of Rogers’ own voice services;
- If the application actually consumed a large amount of bandwidth, carriers might see it as ‘technically’ needing to be mediated using some system (perhaps deep packet inspection).
I started putting out feelers, and no one knew how much data the application consumed. Rogers claimed they didn’t know, nor did Apple. A contact on Twitter who worked as customer relations for Skype also doesn’t know the amount of data used, and the information was nowhere (that I could find) on the English-written web. Similarly, my international contacts were uncertain about data requirements. Fortunately, after an extended wait, I’ve finally received word from Skype’s customer service desks (my last ditch effort was to submit a support ticket). Here is how the relevant part of the email reads: