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New iPhone Setting Stops Apps & Ads from Stalking You (App Tracking Transparency)

Apple App Tracking Transparency is Finally Here!

With the release of iOS 14.5, Apple has given us the most powerful privacy tool for users in many years – it’s called App Tracking Transparency (ATT). The update also includes a lot of features that have Apple product users very excited, like new Siri voices and being able to open your iPhone with Face ID even when wearing a mask—IF AND ONLY IF you have an Apple watch.

But as a privacy advocate, the element that matters the most to me is the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature. This means that apps like Facebook, Instagram and Google will no longer be able to track or gather your surfing habits on other apps or websites without getting your permission. For example, if you worked out on the Peloton app this morning, Facebook can buy that information and advertise exercise clothing to you based on your exercise type, size, weight, etc.

This is a serious blow to Facebook and other “free” services that depend on gathering your intimate personal and behavioral data to sell to their advertising clients. Of course, these services have never actually been free, as we have always been paying by giving them our information.

Specifically, the update changes the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), which is a unique random number assigned to each iPhone and allows advertisers and developers to track user behavior on that device. This includes not only app usage but also web browsing behavior that is often used to target advertisements to your psychographic profile. Apple says this change will provide transparency and give users an easier way to choose if their data is tracked.

Needless to say, Facebook, Google, and other big tech firms are not happy with the change. Facebook was so upset they placed a full-page ad in The New York Times in December claiming that the change would negatively affect small businesses who will see a drop of over 60% in sales. Facebook was unable to substantiate that claim, but their claim that it will force developers to enable in-app purchases or force subscriptions to make up for lost revenue is most likely true.

What will this look like for you as a consumer?

Basically, whenever you open any app that wants to access the IDFA, you will see a pop-up notification that asks for permission to track you across apps and websites by other companies and you’ll be able to opt in to allow tracking or not by choosing between “Allow Tracking” or “Ask App Not To Track.” Opting into data collection rather than having to opt out finally catches up with data privacy regulations such as the EU’s GDPR. It will be required by all software makers within a few months of the release.

So it comes down to a question of are you willing to pay for the extras provided by apps in order to have a little bit more privacy?

John Sileo is a privacy keynote speaker, award-winning author and media personality as seen all over TV. He keynotes conferences virtually and in person around the world. John is the CEO of The Sileo Group, a business think tank based in Colorado.

Talking Surveillance Once Again–Know Your Phone Carrier More Precisely

phone moneyWhen you log onto the Verizon Precision Market Insights website, the giant catch phrase that jumps out at you in bold red letters is:

“Know your audience more precisely.

Drive your business more effectively.”

Verizon is pulling no punches when it comes to letting advertisers know that they have valuable data- OUR data- and they’re willing to share it.  For a price of course.  Phone carriers, who see a continued decline in contract subscriber growth and voice calls, are hoping to generate new sources of revenue by selling the data they collect about us.  They already collect information about user location and Web surfing and application use (which informs them about such things as travels, interests and demographics) to adjust their networks to handle traffic better.  Now they have begun to sell this data.

Note: Verizon customers can OPT-OUT of this data sharing by logging into their accounts online and following the opt-out instructions. I recommend that you do so immediately.

Instead of seeing themselves just as providers of valuable services to their customers by providing a means of communication, carriers now see the potential profit beyond the service.  Businesses such as malls, stadiums and billboard owners can gather information about the activities and backgrounds of cellphone users in particular locations.  For example, Verizon’s data service is being used by the Phoenix Suns to map where people attending its games live “in order to increase advertising in areas that haven’t met expectations”, according to Scott Horowitz, a team vice president.

In Verizon’s own words, their analytics platforms allows companies to:

  • Understand the demographic, geographic and psychographic makeup of (their) target audience.
  • Isolate where consumer groups work and live, the traffic patterns of a target audience and demographic information about
what groups visit particular locations.
  • Learn what mobile content (their) target audience is most likely to consume so (they) can cross-sell and up-sell more easily.

The program does not include information from Verizon’s government or corporate clients and individuals do have the right to opt out on Verizon’s website.  Some European companies have launched similar programs and Jeff Weber of AT&T says they are studying ways to analyze and sell customer data while giving users a way to opt out, but at this point they do not have a similar product.

Carriers do acknowledge the privacy issues related to such data surveillance and companies say they don’t sell data about individuals but rather about groups of people. But Chris Soghoian, a privacy specialist at the American Civil Liberties Union, is worried according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.  In it, he says “the ability to profit from customer data could give wireless carriers an incentive to track customers more precisely than connecting calls requires and to store even more of their Web browsing history. That could broaden the range of data about individuals’ habits and movements that law enforcement could subpoena.  It’s the collection that’s the scary part, not the business use.”

In other words, it’s about more than well-meaning companies collecting our data; it’s that their company databases are vulnerable to attacks by hackers, competitors and foreign governments. And when a breach happens, it’s our data that goes missing.

John Sileo is a keynote privacy speaker and CEO of The Sileo Group, a privacy think tank that trains organizations to harness the power of their digital footprint. Sileo’s clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and businesses looking to protect the information that makes them profitable. Watch John on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.

Is Your Wireless Carrier Tracking Your Surfing Habits (Maybe)

Oh what your mobile phone carrier knows and tracks about you! A one-page document from the Justice Department‘s cybercrime division shows how cell phone companies record and retain your call and surfing activity (calls, text messages, web surfing and approximate location). Here’s a summary of how each company retains your information (full details in the image below):

  • Verizon Wireless – rolling one-year records of cell tower usage & what phone accessed what web site
  • AT&T / Cingular – ongoing records of cell tower usage since July of 2008
  • T-Mobile USA – doesn’t keep any data on Web browsing activity
  • Sprint Nextel’s Virgin Mobile – 3 month record of text content
  • Other than Virgin Mobile and Verizon, none of the carriers keep texts but they keep records of who visited a particular web site.
  • Verizon keeps some information for up to a year that can be used to ascertain if a particular phone visited a particular Web site
  • Sprint Nextel’s Virgin Mobile keeps the text content of text messages for three months. Verizon keeps it for three to five days. None of the other carriers keep texts at all, but they keep records of who texted who for more than a year.
  • AT&T keeps up to seven years of records of who texts who — and when, but not the message content. Virgin Mobile keeps that data for two to three months.

Readily available via a simple Internet search, this document shows how cellphone companies in the U.S. treat data about their subscribers’ cell phone use.

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