March 25, 2014

Can we give away our constitutional rights by accepting to download a free app?

I never knew that some smartphone apps

contain computer code that allow the app developer to use the cell phone’s camera or microphone at any time, and record cell phone conversations at any time.  Listening to a cell phone conversation in the past would require that the police take evidence to a court and ask a judge to sign a warrant allowing a police wiretap.  Yet today, many apps effectively usurp the privacy of downloaders at the push of a phone button.

Can we give away our constitutional rights by accepting to download a free app?

Right now these rights can be taken away by the state only after a long and arduous legal process.  A convicted felon, for example, will lose his right to vote.

Up to now, a person could give away copyright rights to a photograph, for example, only by physically signing a photo release.  Or he could sign away the copyright protections for a piece of music to a record company.  But apps today could sneak in language that states that any music transmitted by a smartphone becomes the property of the person who developed the app.  This was all made possible because written signatures were replaced by the e-signature, and now only a click of the "accept" button is required.

John McAfee has had enough of excessive app permissions launched Cognizant on March 1st

The product is called Cognizant, a free to download app for Android mobile phones and tablets.  It protects those devices by empowering the user to be fully aware of all the permissions that applications have been granted on a device, knowingly or not.
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In a non-descript Montreal office building, McAfee demonstrated how one popular chat application in particular had by default been granted what can only be described as excessive permissions.  The application has access to things like:  all call history, contacts, GPS, camera access, the ability to silently make calls and even turn off notifications of these activities to the user.  I install the app on my own phone to see this and sure enough, it’s pretty shocking.  If you think about it, if one were to describe a program that did all of these things on a PC, it could be called malware.  McAfee states that there are thousands upon thousands of apps out there doing the exact same thing, taking more permissions than are clearly necessary or that you may be comfortable with.

While awaiting a similar app for the iPhone, I just got rid of a bunch of apps that I never used.

Posted by Jill Fallon at March 25, 2014 4:36 PM | Permalink