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iOS and Android devices deal with Privacy Issues

PrivacyApple iOS and Android are experiencing issues with third-party apps that are trying to illegally access user photos, according to the New York Times. Some might say that no one is perfect, but this doesn’t work when Apple and Google are involved.

Privacy problems have certainly been trending upward this year: Facebook, Google, Apple, and many others have encountered issues.

On iOS, this security vulnerability is a problem on apps that require access to location information. If access is granted, the app can copy the user’s photo library, without informing the user. Normally, an app would alert the user whenever private information is accessed. The New York Times asked a developer to build an app that collected photos and location information from an iOS device. When they tested it, the d this app to access user’s location data, the app started to export photos and their location data to a remote server.

For Apple, this is a big privacy issue, because they usually evaluate each iOS application before allowing it to be part of App Store. David Jacobs a fellow from Electronic Privacy Information Center said that many “celebrities and famous people have pictures leaked and disclosed in the past” and with 99 percent of them owning a smartphone that’s not hard to be true.

NYT went further and discovered that the same thing happens on Android devices and this could be experienced easier than the vulnerability from iOS apps. An Android developer build an application that was simply meant to be a timer. When this application was installed, there was a notification that this wants to access the Internet. When they opened the app and used it, the app secretly accessed the photo library, got the images and publish them on an image sharing site.

In both cases, apps were deliberately built by developers to access photos, but users should have been notified by iOS or Android that this was about to happen. This experiment demonstrated everyone that both Apple and Google have big issues regarding apps access to sensitive information.

Google released an official statement about this issue:

We originally designed the Android photos file system similar to those of other computing platforms like Windows and Mac OS. At the time, images were stored on a SD card, making it easy for someone to remove the SD card from a phone and put it in a computer to view or transfer those images.

As phones and tablets have evolved to rely more on built-in, non-removable memory, we’re taking another look at this and considering adding a permission for apps to access images. We’ve always had policies in place to remove any apps on Android Market that improperly access your data.

What’s next ?

It’s time that Apple and Google admit they were doing wrong and come back with some answers and apologies. It’s unthinkable that after nearly 5 years of iOS/Android development there are still privacy issues. Imagine for a moment what might happen if someone accesses private photos from presidents, celebrities, media owners and so on.

Photo Credit: Dave Pearson

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