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Smart Phone Apps - Privacy Violation?

Pandora, Inc. recently revealed in a filing prior to its IPO that a federal grand jury in New Jersey is looking into how the data scraped by the Pandora music app is being used.  And it's not just Pandora that is using your personal information for things such as a cell phone lookup.  The app-making business is like the Wild West right now, and scraping cell telephone numbers is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dealing with them.  

Allow This Application To Access...Your Cell Number Lookup?

While most apps require that you give up some personal 4-1-1 (such as "network communications"), apps are digging deeper into your smart device and potentially scraping your contacts' numbers from your contact lists.  More importantly, the technology exists to grab all personal information that's stored on the device for number lookup purposes.

How much data from your device is too much data to give away?  It's more than just your friends' numbers.  Which digital marketing companies are sharing the sensitive and private data from your personal device?
No Cookies, and Lots of Telephone Numbers

Your personal computer can block personal information from being released.  But there are no privacy tools like cookies on your smart device to keep you somewhat safe from the phishers, malware bots, and scammers looking for cell telephone numbers. 

Apple claims that iPhone app writers have to abide by a certain code of ethics regarding disclosure of how they deal with your personal information such as information on your personal and private contacts list.  Google's position with the Android market is more centered on the end user - "caveat emptor".  Neither claim to review or test every app for malicious intent.

At the end of the day, you are responsible for the security of the information on your smart device, including the contact information listed in your contacts.

Still, in the grand scheme of things, telephone numbers are small potatoes compared to demographic and financial information.

Smart Device Privacy for All?

The bottom line is that there's no such thing as a truly private smart app, but you can take some basic precautions to keep your friends' numbers and personal data safe from these types of number lookup schemes and other scams:

•    Never download an unsolicited app that someone sends you
•    Get your apps from a trusted provider that has policies on scraping numbers stored on your smart device
•    Pay attention to the "allow this application to access" screen
•    When in doubt, just don't download.  Your friends might not be as smart as you when it comes to these types of scams.

You, and your knowledge and intelligence, are currently the best line of defense against the contact information scam and other information on your phone being hacked or misused. By remaining vigilant and aware of what is out there, you can protect not only yourself, but your friends and contacts, from scams on your smart devices.

If you'd like to find out more information, see the following sources to read more on phishing for cell telephone numbers and contact information lookup scams:

Broadcast Law Blog - "Privacy, the Next Big Issue for Digital Media Companies"
Wall Street Journal - "Your Apps are Watching You"
InformationWeek - "You Have Little Control with Smartphone App Privacy"


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