In today’s digital world, big data is everything to Business. Collecting consumer data has become more valuable than actual products, and a commodity that is regularly bought and sold. What does this mean for the consumer though? Your information is being aggregated into cyber-profiles meant to deliver targeted marketing based on where you go, what you buy, who you call or text, and who’s in your contacts list.
With the public eye on privacy, more and more people are looking for ways to protect their more “personal” information from prying eyes. Some of the better known examples of big data collection overstepping their bounds include:
- Facebook and their ability to judge your credit worthiness based on your friends. If you have the Facebook app on your phone, you’re granting them access to all of your contacts there as well, so they may use that information in their conclusions.
- London advertising firms tracking consumers whereabouts via public trash cans.
- Singapore based Adnear flying drones over California and tracking the populace via their cell phones.
- Target using shopping and browsing habits to determine a teen girl was pregnant – before her parents found out
These all sparked heated debates over what is considered public information and an invasion of privacy, but what most people don’t pay attention to is what permissions they grant apps they install on their phones. There are many, many reasons why we should be wary of what these applications ask for, and not just to prevent the spread of malware. To illustrate my point, I downloaded and installed a seemingly benign app, the Subway app. On android, prior to installation, you must agree to the permissions asked by the application before it downloads. This is the first measure of security that Google places in your hands. Let’s see what is required:
- Read phone status and Identity – Used to uniquely identify you and your device
- Take Pictures and Video – I’m sorry, what?!?
- Approximate Location & Precise Location – Ok, shows the locale to determine close resturants.
- Find Accounts on the Device – Not sure why this is even necessary…
- Connect and Disconnect from Wi-Fi – Why should this app be able to connect and disconnect my Wi-Fi? I understand the network access and receiving data from the internet, but my actual connection?
- Control Flashlight, Control Vibration – Again, why?
What if I told you that you could use these apps, and maintain control over what they get to use? Well, if you’re rooted, you can!
Thanks to XDA Recognized Developer – M66B and his XPrivacy module for Xposed Framework *, you can have 100% control over how your data is accessed and used from your mobile device. The impressive list of features in this application allow you to breakdown permissions into global, per app and on-demand categories. You can choose to randomize your data, or allow apps only specific “true” data sets. For example, I can feed the Subway app my location, while also providing an entirely empty, or fake, phone identity to protect my anonymity. I can also entirely restrict access to my camera, so no pictures or video. The list of possibilities is endless, yet very simple to use and configure.
If you value your privacy, and your ability to use any apps you want, I highly suggest this module.
*Xposed Framework is the brainchild of XDA Senior Recognized Developer rovo89
*Samsung device owners on KitKat and above will need an unofficial Xposed Framework, courtesy of XDA Recognized Developer wanam*