One of internet users’ biggest fears is privacy and safety. Is my data safe? Can someone read my mails and see my pictures? Are my credit card and personal data encrypted when I buy something online? The most renowned technology and mobile app development companies try to convince consumers it’s safe to surf them, provide them with our sensitive data and use their paying systems.
How major tech companies protect your personal data
In 2014, the Electronic Frontier Foundation surveyed the biggest tech companies in order to know what kind of encryption they were using. Although most of the corporations quickly started to work on stronger encryption after the report, it’s still interesting to know that by that time, companies like Apple, Amazon or Skype weren’t as safe as we thought. Since the study, the Electronic Frontier Foundation asked service providers to reinforce data encryption. For instance, according to the report, Amazon encrypted 37% of outgoing emails and 50-99% of incoming emails but didn’t encrypt HTTPS nor HSTS.
Apple uses encryption since the release of the iPhone 3. The encryption was used into the hardware and firmware of iPhones and iPads. The encryption used now by Apple is an Advanced Encryption Standard. There is also a unique identifier specific to each device and can’t be read directly. And of course, all data stored is encrypted in all iOS devices.
In terms of encryption and privacy, Google is an example to follow. Google encrypts the totality of data and 100% of the emails (both outgoing and upcoming). That’s why the company offers a public transparency report that any user can read on their site.
Yahoo is very safe too, encrypting 100% of the emails. Outlook’s email encryption goes from 50% to 99%. Outlook encrypts almost all of their inbound and outbound emails in transit, but all Bing search traffic and many messages from msn.com are still unencrypted.
Twitter is one of the best companies keeping user data secure. Even if there are some daily issues they try to fix them everyday, they encrypt absolutely everything.
About two of the most popular chatting services in the world, Skype and WhatsApp, it remains unknown if they encrypt data or not. On the contrary, the biggest part of Facebook content and images are encrypted (unless on older Android phones running 4.1.1, because they don’t support encryption).
What do companies do with your private information?
So here comes the big question: what do they do with my data? To start with, you have to know that around 30% of free mobile apps capture and sell personal info from your phone, including your pictures, contacts, text messages and web browsing histories. And these risky apps are found in the official and trusted Google Play Store and Apple App Store. There are two ways to earn money for mobile app developers: charging for their app or selling users’ personal data to advertisers around the world. At the same time, this information can be stolen or purchased by hackers or malicious advertising networks.
The most stolen information is users’ location (one Android app out of three makes that, with a 30% rate of access) and tracking users' identities (two out of three Android apps). Mainly, this data is used for advertising purposes. Users can avoid this tracking through Google Settings.
As an answer, in the last years have appeared several apps done by very different mobile app development companies that protect users against other apps that steal their private information. One of them is Privacy Hawk by Marble Security, available for Android devices. Privacy Hawk detects malware and viruses and identifies the apps that steal and sell private data and take over your phone. Privacy Hawk provides you a report of every app in your phone and shows you a map of the points in the globe where your info is sent.
Another mobile app to protect your personal and confidential data is Andrognito by Codex, available for Android too. Andrognito can hide and lock all your private data (pictures, videos, PDF’s, documents, audio files, etc) behind three layers of encryption. All the files you choose will be securely hidden inside a safe vault that only you can access with a password. In addition, the files and personal data can’t be accessed even if someone copies the data from your device and tries to run the app on another device, as the encryption process is device sensitive and so virtually unbreakable.
With this scenario, one of the mobile app developers' priorities should definitely be to minimize the amount of data their apps need. Some smartphones and OS already offer a wider range of options in terms of encryption.
Google was actually going to encrypt by default all their Lollipop devices, although the company finally decided not to make encryption mandatory, but "strongly recommendable". For example, encryption is enabled by default on the Nexus 6, and the latest Android version, Android 6.0 Marshmallow, provides simplified app permissions. Before Android 6.0, users had to accept or deny all the permissions before installing an app.
On the contrary, you can now choose to accept or deny individual permissions. For instance, this means you can allow an app to have access to your camera but not to your microphone, and still install that app. Until now, if you denied the access to the microphone, you were just unable to use that app. Besides, Android 6.0 doesn’t request the permissions at the moment of installation, but the first time you are going to use a determinate feature.
Apple and the FBI
It’s been all over the internet how Apple is not going to help the FBI in San Bernardino’s shooting case. What the government and the FBI want is for Apple to think of a way to unlock the shooter’s iPhone so the police can access all the personal data and information stored. But if Apple does that, it will mean they have found a way to hack their iPhones, and Cupertino’s company is not going to do so.
There is a lot of people backing up Apple’s decision, actually, Mark Zuckerberg stand by Apple’s side in his speech at the Mobile World Congress. Other great personalities in the mobile world like Bill Gates, think it is a bad idea not helping the FBI.
This is a very difficult topic since it involves the killing of innocent people. But hacking an iPhone will mean leaving the door open to access all iPhones worldwide and no mobile company wants that. It is not only about personal data, because maybe the shooters had some information in the phone, but the problem is that giving access to that iPhone 5 means that any personal data sotred in apps, hardware or software is accessible if the companies want.