Privacy Problems in Apps

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Software is a great equalizer, in that almost anyone can build an application and make it available for others. The app stores from Apple, Google, and others are great examples of where individuals or small teams have made some incredible applications that people all over the world use on a regular basis.

This year, a pandemic changed the world. One of the main things that many scientists and governments have desired to help control the spread of disease is contact tracing. One would think this is a great situation where technology can help.

It can, but many apps built for contact tracing aren't respecting privacy. Researchers examined a number of apps in use around the world and found many aren't using the privacy friendly notification systems that Google and Apple have built. There are a variety of permissions and practices in use, which is a little disconcerting. How can someone really understand the implications of choosing one over the other?

As with any situation, it's likely that some developers have good reasons to request additional permissions and collect more data. Lots of governments and universities built apps because they didn't feel the Google/Apple frameworks collect enough data. It's also likely some malicious actors built apps to collect data, and certainly a few have been built with advertising or some other money making scheme integrated with the app.

If you choose to use some sort of app, you might spend a bit of time understand how it works, what data it collects, and if there are any policies or ability to control this. While we want to control and eradicate this pandemic, many of us don't want lasting control of some data about us to be in the hands of others.

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