Apps

A ridesharing customer holds their phone inside a car, worried about how ridesharing apps' privacy policies impact her.

Ridesharing Apps and Protecting Your Privacy

A ridesharing customer holds their phone inside a car, worried about how ridesharing apps' privacy policies impact her.

Ridesharing apps are a popular way for commuters to get to their destinations, but recent events have put ridesharing companies’ privacy policies into question.

 

Increasingly, people are choosing ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft over traditional cab services.  This is partly because the rates are cheaper, but also because passengers can lower their fare further by carpooling with people traveling in the same area.

Anyone who has used an app like Uber knows that it uses GPS technology to show where drivers and passengers are, in real-time.  This in itself raises some questions about privacy.  But recently, ridesharing apps have given travelers even more to worry about.

Privacy Policy Precedents

Uber has granted its employees access to data on thousands of customers, including when and where each client travels.  This data even includes how long a customer stayed at a particular location. The implications of this are far-reaching.  Data breaches of this kind could leak the personal travel details of thousands of customers.  Additionally, this information could be used to spy on politicians and other high-profile figures.

Uber currently has 40 million users, claiming that these info distribution practices are in compliance with their legal responsibilities and offer sufficient protection for their users.  However, in 2014, Uber revealed a “God View” tool that displayed an aerial view for tracking customers in real time.  These examples raise suspicions about how much ridesharing apps care about customer privacy.

What Kind of Data Is at Stake?

The privacy policies of ridesharing apps bring to light how these companies store, employ and keep our personal data safe.  Most of these apps require that users connect their social media profiles to their account.  Sites like Facebook are giant databases of personally identifiable information (PII). If these details are leaked, customers’ personal, professional, and social lives may be at stake.

Facebook

Using-link Facebook accounts can be an easy method for new users to sign up and log in, but linking to social media accounts means that apps are also collecting information unrelated to getting a ride.  Birthdays, friend lists, which college or university you attend, and interests are also gathered.

Credit Card Account Information

In addition to these concerns, how ridesharing apps handle our payment credentials has also come into question. These apps are usually cashless and require their users to link credit card accounts to pay for rides.  While this seems like a more convenient payment method, our account numbers are only as safe as these companies’ privacy policies.

How Your Personal Information Can Be Leaked

What does this mean for ridesharing passengers at large? Generally, a bulk of the information is collected for marketing, general usage statistics, and app functionality purposes (service improvements).  This information can also be sold to advertisers or third parties.

There are three ways in which a data breach could occur: the information could be leaked during the transmission of it to third parties, the ridesharing company itself may mishandle the information, or the data might be mismanaged by advertisers or third parties.

Two woman stand on the side of the road, having used a ridesharing app to order a ride.

It’s undeniable that ridesharing apps are convenient and combatible with busy lifestyles, so it’s important to protect your privacy while taking advantage of ridesharing apps’ features.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Privacy?

Ridesharing apps are obviously an innovative idea; in an increasingly interconnected world, the concept of using technology to facilitate carpooling is incredibly useful.  Ridesharing is both a green way to go about your daily commute and an inexpensive way to reach destinations inaccessible via public transit.

But because extremely sensitive personal data is at stake here, choosing a ridesharing app is not a trivial matter.  These companies’ privacy policies are available on their websites and should specify what individual user data is being collected.  All apps collect usage statistics and other general facts, but privacy policies tell you which companies send out user specific details (credit card numbers, birthdays, emails, etc.) to third parties.

You can also read other users’ reviews to see what they have to say about their experience.  Reviews are very telling of how a company handles their business, how much they value their customers, and how their policies affect the end-users.

The Future of Ridesharing Apps

Conventional car services like taxicabs and black cars/limos are regulated by law.  With the emergence of apps like Uber taking over the car service scene, questions have been raised concerning legality and classification. Institutions of political power, like the U.S. Senate, have come to ask companies like Uber about their privacy policies.  This industry is still fairly new, and comprehensive security standards have yet to be put in place.

Until then, it’s always a good idea to keep yourself updated on the privacy policies of the services you are using.  Today, data breaches carry the weight of bank robberies in decades past.  Because all of our information can be accessed in one place, it must be properly safeguarded.

While app developers should be obligated to make sure their software protects the data being collected, it is still the responsibility of the user to educate themselves on how their data is being handled.

 

 

 

Google’s Trusted Contact App Wants to Make Users Safe

An image of a phone with a health symbol. Health and safety are what Google wants to provide with their Trusted Contact app.

Will Google’s Trusted Contact app be of service to you?

Google has recently released the Trusted Contact app. For quite some time, expediting communication between users has been a goal of Google’s. But while most of their efforts in this field have been on with social platforms, the Trusted Contact app is specifically intended for emergency situations. User safety is the primary goal here.

This is an app intended to give users peace of mind and help them in those hard-to-prepare-for situations. The questions regarding this app are functionality, effectiveness, and whether or not this app can be as helpful as Google intends it to be. We will assess those questions now and let you know if this is an app necessary in any emergency.

How the Trusted Contact App Works

Users are able to designate their closest friends and family members as trusted contacts. If they feel comfortable doing so, they can share their location with these contacts. This works no matter the circumstances. Even if there’s no service, or if the user’s battery happens to die. The user’s location will be updated for whichever contact is chosen.

Pros and Cons of the Trusted Contact App

Having an app that allows the user to contact someone in the direst of situations is essential. On that alone, Google’s Trusted Contact app does what it sets out to do. It’s a good safety net to have. And at 5 MB, there’s very little to worry about in terms of storage.

The only negative there is to this app derives from the overlap with other apps and phone software. Facebook has had the safety check for a few years, Apple has the iCloud Family Sharing feature, and apps such as Familio and GeoZilla all provide similar services. In fact, people who use other Google apps have also pointed out that Google+ and Hangouts also do this in some form.

Redundancy issues aside, compared to the other apps of its ilk currently out there, Google’s is the most thorough. Consider downloading it as a precautionary measure.

What’s Being Done to Protect You on Your Favorite Photo Apps?

A man taking a selfie, which is common for anyone who uses photo apps.

How safe are you on your favorite photo apps?

Photo apps are the social media platform most vulnerable to attack. By nature, they tend to have the most sensitive material. Worry grows among Snapchat and Instagram users because of this. As shown over the years, when a hacker is able to gain access to such sensitive material, it proves to be very damaging.

Users of photo apps would be wise to take as many preventative measures as possible. Storage location, the rise of location-specific information, and changes in an app’s terms of service do not help security. Developers need to do more. As it stands, too many users are vulnerable.

Security Flaws Made by Developers of Photo Apps

Neither Instagram nor Snapchat has end-to-end encryption. Both apps communicate primarily through pictures. Making sure the sender and recipient are the only ones able to see the messages should be a priority. Not having end-to-end is a problem.

Snapchat has also changed its terms of service recently. These changes now allow them to store and share information with third parties and their affiliates. Considering how the initial appeal of Snapchat was that all messages and photos vanished after a brief period of time, this upset users.

Security Measures for All Users

It’s highly suggested to take advantage of the phone software and security apps protecting a user’s photo access. With iOS 8, Apple made it possible to hide pictures on iOS devices. This is achieved by simply putting them in a designated folder. Additionally, apps such as HiFolder allow users to store private images locally in its password-protected vault.

Those measures only work for a phone’s internal storage of photos, however. For photo apps, users must take matters into their own hands. Linking an account to another social media platform like Facebook or Twitter is a big risk. As is using anything in the app that requests location. Being aware of which followers can be trusted is also necessary.

Most social media apps could stand to beef up their security as it stands. Because of its history of getting hacked, security for photo apps is especially important. More preventative measures by both developers and users must be in place.

How Smartphones Affect Privacy in Public

The term “dynamic visibility” is gaining momentum as studies are observing the effects of technology on the privacy of individuals. It is important to remember that digital surveillance is not 100% to blame. We also have to consider the sheer amount of free information that people divulge through technology. Consider some of the ways we willingly give up some of our privacy when it comes to our devices.

How Our Privacy Is Shared

Apps like Waze allow us to share our location at all times. Facebook and other social apps result in the sharing of tons of personal data. Even dating app profiles record information that should be considered a huge invasion of privacy—and yet people willingly give up that information in an attempt to be digitally matched up with the right person.

Research was performed using an Android app. The study focused on one particular part of Israel where smartphone use is the highest. The app included surveys taken on the phone that gathered info that was willingly shared, but it also tracked the location and phone usage of those who downloaded the app. This simulated the amount of information that people give up both voluntarily and through app allowances.

The study revealed that an astonishing 73% of responders were willing to give up their actual location while filling out a survey. It was also made clear that people were much more willing to give up both their location as well as other personal information when they were taking a survey in a public place rather than at home.

The fact that people seem more willing to give up personal info when asked questions in public is an intriguing phenomenon that encourages further study.

At the same time, this study serves as a warning to all those who are genuinely concerned about privacy. Be sure to consider what information each app on your phone gathers. Many track location and some do so even when the app is not in use. At the same time, consider what information you give away freely via social media, dating accounts, and online surveys. You never know who may be watching.

Don’t Fall for That Video App Offer – It Isn’t Free

The promise is a free video, but all you get is Free Phishing.

Video is the most popular form of content on the Internet. Just look at the stats on how many people search on YouTube (it’s second only to Google) and the millions of videos being watched every minute of every day. It’s no wonder why Facebook wanted in on the video action. With over a billion users, Facebook wants to give their audience more reason to use the service—and to share content. Unfortunately, it also introduces an opportunity.

Scammers Love to Work with What is Popular – Like Facebook Video

This is why a new scam has popped up encouraging users to avail themselves of a free app for viewing Facebook videos. The scam tries to convince you that all you have to do is log in to your Facebook account to get the free download. Once you do, guess, who has your login info? Unfortunately, it’s the scammer.

To go after those who are interested in mature content, another part of the scam suggests you are about to watch a Facebook video requiring age verification. Entering your username and password confirms you are over 18. This is also a scam to steal your info.

Unfortunately, the scam looks very authentic and uses the Facebook logo and everything. The moral of the story: Never enter your credentials unless you were specifically trying to download something. Pop-ups asking for your login info are usually not legit.

What is Phishing?

You probably noticed the term phishing used above. What does it mean? Like a fisherman baits a fish, a scammer uses a lure to catch data. In this case, the lure is a free video app—or access to adult content. Your login info is now caught, and the scammer has access to tons of your personal information.

What if It’s Too Late?

If you’ve already filled out something like this, you should:

  • Immediately change your password, even if your account hasn’t been hacked yet.
  • Report any phishing attempts to Facebook so they can try to prevent others from falling victim to the same scams.
  • Also keep an eye on your financial account to make sure your personal info hasn’t been used to steal your identity.

Meet Facebook’s Digital Assistant: M

Apple and Microsoft will soon no longer be the only games in town when it comes to digital assistants. If you like Siri or Cortana, but don’t want to be tied to a particular OS, then M may be the solution and future of personal digital assistant apps. Facebook has decided to include the AI service as a part of the Facebook Messenger app. But don’t just expect another digital assistant who provides reminder notices and makes quips when you ask what is zero divided by zero. Facebook may not get there first, but they know how to improve on an existing product (just ask Myspace).

M will actually be able to accomplish more than other AI predecessors. For example, you will be able to ask M to make reservations at a restaurant, set up your travel arrangements, make appointments, and even purchase items. M isn’t just here to answer questions with a search query. This digital assistant is intended to take care of many of the things you would expect a human personal assistant to do for you.

When can you expect to start using M? Based on what we have seen so far, there could be a long wait ahead. David Marcus, the VP of messaging products at Facebook, says that they are still early in the project. It won’t be ready to release until all the bugs are worked out. Don’t forget that Facebook has over a billion users. That means that this project needs to be ready for release on an incredible scale before it can go live.

In the meantime, Facebook is bigger than ever. The CEO recently announced that a new milestone was reached for the company – one billion same-day users. That means that on Monday, August 24th, about one out of every seven people on the planet logged into their Facebook account at some point. That’s a true testament to how important staying connected is to the human race albeit one with the help of a personal digital assistant app.

 

Hangouts Web App

Hangouts Web App: Communicating from Your Desktop or Laptop

Whether you use the Google operating system, Chrome OS, or are using Microsoft Windows, Google has a new web app you might be interested in. It lets you use the Hangouts web app as a desktop app, instead of in your email or as a pop out browser window. Sorry Mac users. You haven’t been included yet. What does the app do?

You can check your contact list, receive alerts when you get a message from someone, and view older chat conversations right from your desktop. This can all be done without having a browser open. You will have access to the voice and video calling features. It also syncs with your mobile hangouts app, so conversations will stay up to date on all of your devices. Google Voice members can even use the app to handle calls, texts, and voicemails—right from your desktop.

Honestly, the app isn’t a surprise. Hangouts has been a part of the Chrome browser as an extension from early on. In fact, the Android app was so popular that Apple got on board and allowed a Hangouts app for their mobile products. While there’s no news yet on a Hangouts app for Apple desktops, it seems to be inevitable. In the meantime, Chromebook owners and Windows users can rejoice in the ability to use Hangouts with a desktop or laptop, all without having to open a browser and log into their Gmail account.

The best news is that the hangouts web app is free, so there’s really no reason to wait. Go ahead and hit up the Chrome Web Store, unless you are on a Mac. You can then start handling your calls, video chats, and texts for free from your desktop. Thanks Google! We’re glad you make so much money on search that you give us all this other cool stuff for free.

Best Android Apps: 2013 Edition

Top Android™ Apps of 2013

What awesome apps did you discover in 2013? You know, the kind you have no idea how you survived without? We have a couple of those ourselves. Read on for our curated Android™ list of last year’s desert-island picks.

First, let’s begin by tipping our hats to Google™. We love chatting using our Gmail™ account and the Talk app served us well for a while, but Hangouts™ has redefined the service. Now you can take care of all of your Google contacts in one place. Whether you are having a conversation in Gmail chat, Google+™ or want to make a video call, you only need one app.

While we’re at it, let’s consider another great addition to the Google line: Keep. This is the only real competitor for the popular Evernote® app. Linking it to your Google Drive™ account makes it even more effective.

Now, let’s talk about Swype™. Obviously, the app isn’t the first introduction of this proficient way of using an onscreen keyboard. It is, however, the first version that isn’t considered Beta. That’s why it’s the first app to make our list that isn’t free (Don’t worry, it’s only $2).

Camera Awesome® makes the list as well. Are you tired of your friends with Apple™ products always posting better photos on Facebook® and Instagram®? Now for the low price of $3, you can have the same camera app that’s been providing your iPhone®-wielding buddies with advanced camera functions.

Photoshop® Touch has finally made its way to smartphones, too. That’s the good news; the bad news is that even if you already have it on your Android tablet, you’ll have to pay for it again on your phone. More good news: It’s only $5.

Let’s end with a grocery app. Yup—we always need one to make our lives easier, and Buy Me a Pie!® is a great way to keep in sync with the rest of the fam. No more having two household members come home with a gallon of milk but no one remembering the eggs, as this one helps you share your grocery lists and removes redundancies.

Send Texts from Literally Anywhere

It’s nice to get away from it all on vacation or extreme sports adventures, but it’s also great to have a link to the outside world for emergencies. Well, now there is a better way to survive a bad situation than having to saw off your own arm or drink your own urine. Text Anywhere lives up to its name via satellite link.

With Text Anywhere, you don’t even need cell phone service. It simply increases your phone’s range to virtually anywhere. Any device that can use Wi-Fi can be linked up. So you can message using your phone, tablet, or laptop. It’s also web-based instead of operating system-based, so it works well with nearly any device. If you don’t have a clear sky view, you may not get reception. Plus, certain countries like North Korea and Cuba block the signal. Otherwise, you should be okay from virtually anywhere.

You don’t get enough bandwidth to anything beyond text. And you won’t get a media message like an image through, so keep your text to fewer than 160 characters. Emails that only use text will also work. Text Anywhere is a two-way street, so you can receive as well as send. You connect to it just like you would any other wireless signal, and then you are all set to send and receive text messages.

Don’t confuse this device with inReach, which was specifically designed to be able to get rescued in an emergency situation. While you can use the device to contact someone in an emergency, it doesn’t send off the same kind of homing signal for would-be rescuers. It’s really more for keeping in touch when you are out of civilization and not in an emergency.

Don’t forget the batteries. You’ll need four AA batteries for this device. Without the batteries, it weighs less than half of a pound. Also, if you are traveling by car, you have the option to plug it in and use your car’s power instead of battery life.

All the fees are pretty straightforward. You pay a one-time fee to get the device and 100 messages. Then you pay per message after that. Rates are a little steep, but you get what you pay for.

Waiting Patiently for Google Glass

What is Google Glass? It’s the first wearable mobile device. Resembling a pair of glasses, Google Glass can answer your questions, perform searches, give directions, check the weather and more. It’s meant to be an experience that blends into the real world, instead of replacing it like a pair of virtual-reality glasses would. Most responses are audio and visual and happen on a small screen in the peripheral vision of your right eye. Videos from beta testers have everyone really excited about this product. So when will we see it?

If you’ve been waiting patiently for a shot at purchasing Google Glass, I have some bad news. You’re going to have to wait a little longer. According to the FAQ on the official Google site, it will be 2014 before the device becomes available for retail purchase. In the meantime, some more prototypes will be going out in 2013 to boost excitement over the product even more.

You must keep in mind that the beta testers that you see walking around with these beauties paid a heavy price for their advance product. Google didn’t just hand these out. When Google sold pre-orders in 2012, $1,500 was the asking price to wear Google Glass two years early. If more go out this year, how much would you be willing to pay for one in advance? Don’t answer before you’ve watched a few videos. These aren’t your grandma’s reading glasses.

Again, Google says that more people will be getting Glass this year. How much it will cost both Google and the general public in 2014 remains a mystery for now. We’ll just have to keep watching the videos and be patient for a little bit longer until there is a definite release date and price.

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