We are highly dependent on the applications present on our phones. If you want to go somewhere, you have a Map application ready or an app for ride-hailing service. Similarly chat apps for communication and dating apps for obvious reasons.
These apps process minutest of details about what we like to eat, our favourite web series or movies, what we shop, where and how we commute, preference of music etc. The amount of personal information knowingly or unknowingly shared on these platforms is unimaginable and, if misused, it can pose a huge risk as well.
The most cited example is Facebook letting Cambridge Analytica access data of millions of users to help Donald Trump win the Presidential elections in the United States. The impact of this scandal has been massive and irreversible.
Similarly, a report stated that 250+ Android applications, which had access to the phone’s microphone, were listening to high-frequency audio signals embedded in advertisements to assess user’s preferences.
Both, Facebook and Google, apart from many other tech companies, have been under the scanner for eavesdropping on your calls, emails and chats etc. to serve you more personalised content. Have you not noticed seeing ads of similar product or service, on Facebook, Instagram or Google, which you just discussed with a friend on phone or in person?
This is not a mere co-incidence that these advertisements pop-up in your feed, though these companies have been denying accessing your voice data, but it is surely happening.
Another example of applications misusing phone features is the advertisements or announcements that you see on your phone depending on your physical location. Like when you visit a mall, you automatically get alerts regarding offers running on the stores near you. Thanks to GPS present on the phone which offers real time information about the device’s location and is helpful during driving and navigation.
This data, if used properly, can become an extremely valuable feature too. GPS location can be very critical when users’ security is in question. We have a lot of apps that share GPS co-ordinates to select contacts of the user in case of emergency. Recently Tinder, the well-known dating app, introduced a new feature called Traveler Alert.
This feature is designed to warn and inform members of LGBTQ+ community about discriminatory laws when they travel to foreign countries. Travelling to these places can become a nightmare and it can land one in jail as well, for simply being themselves.
Similarly, matchmaking app, BharatMatrimony prompts NRI users to activate GPS on their devices in order to verify the actual location. This authentication minimises chances of fraud and helps build a credible profile. Going by the number of fake profiles and frauds happening on matrimonial sites, this feature is critically important.
Both Tinder and BharatMatrimony are simple examples of how effective usage of features present on the smartphones can be used for safeguarding the users. Tinder will automatically warn its users from LGBTQ+ community to either hide their profile or hide information regarding their sexual orientation to keep themselves safe in unfriendly territories. BharatMatrimony, on the other hand, has made GPS location verification one of the key parameters to complete the profile of NRI users.
Though it is easy for a user to set correct permissions within applications so that they do not snoop on you, correct and timely use of features can be a life saver too. Since we trust them with personal sensitive details, we expect them to protect us rather than just treat us as a medium of making more money.