Privacy issues surrounding your smartphone

If George Orwell’s 1984 was for real, then Big Brother would be a real fan of our current smartphone technology. Smartphones are true surveillance devices that we carry with us voluntarily. Slim boxes bristling with sensors and continuous internet connectivity to send all that sensor data to unknown parties around the world.

I own a Samsung smartphone, and I am really unhappy with the way that that company handles privacy of their customers (or rather not handles it). Apple devices are seemingly better, but - being a very secretive company - we can only guess if that is really the case.

Some time ago I as a product owner I sent my feedback regarding privacy to the Head of Digital of Samsung in Vietnam. I told her my concerns, and that it makes me feel very unhappy about an otherwise well-designed device (as a result I am actively looking at replacements, like eelo and Librem 5), and also told that I am surprised that Samsung is so privacy-invasive to their paying customers (this tells something about the value of personal data: it is the new gold).

Therefore I would like to dedicate this thread to discussing the various (many) ways in which smartphone devices (potentially) invade your privacy. Then in a later stage we could use that information to compile a checklist of how you can best protect your privacy yourself. And we can use the information to ‘name & shame’ the companies involved in hopes of them improving their ways.

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To kick off the thread here is an issue I had with my Samsung Galaxy S7 today, while creating a post in the Dark Patterns thread.

My Gallery app is just a simple picture management tool, right?

Wrong!!

In the EU, as you know, the GDPR privacy regulations kicked in on 25th of May 2018. As a result many apps on my phone have been updated. When I created a screenshot on my mobile and accessed it on the Gallery app (which is installed by Samsung as part of the default software package), I got the following notification:

A strange notification. First of all, I didn’t know that Gallery app was provided by Foursquare, and the message “More detailed location information than the region information will also be shown.” is not very clear as well. So I went to the privacy policy page link that was displayed: https://foursquare.com/legal/privacy

And here it says the following (among a whole mumble jumble of legal texts):

If you use our Apps and have enabled background location services in our Apps, you have permitted us to collect the above Data about you in the background even when you do not have the Apps open (as permitted by your device settings).

In the privacy policy are a whole bunch of other potential ways that Foursquare may obtain information from you. like from any other apps that use their API.

Who is Foursquare, btw? It is a restaurant-finding service: “Find the best places to eat, drink, shop, or visit in any city in the world.”. What the hell is it doing in my image Gallery app?

Luckily I have location services disabled by default (hope this is sufficient to block their data harvesting), and the app says ‘No location data’ for my images, which seems good. But I checked ‘Gallery Settings > About Gallery’ anyway. No mention about Foursquare, but there are links to the general Samsung Privacy Policy there… which says nothing at all about Gallery, but pages full of anything Samsung may do in general with all of their combined services. Which is a lot.

From the ‘About Gallery’ page I went to ‘App Info’ using the button, and noticed something else which is strange:

Screenshot_20180621-212818

Notice the permissions: Contacts, SMS and Storage. I know why these are needed, but I have a huge problem with the scope of these permissions.

  • Storage is easy: Need to store images on your phone. But gives access to ALL data on your phone
  • SMS: Probably needed to allow an image to be sent via ‘Share > SMS’. I disabled this permission, because it also allows access to ALL your SMS messages
  • Contact List: Probably needed for the sharing of images too. I also disabled this, as this could too easily lead to the situation where my contact list is uploaded to Samsung or some 3rd party

And finally: ‘Change system settings’ is On. Why would my Gallery app need to change system settings? (might be to automatically switch on Bluetooth, if you seletct that for the Share functionality). I disabled that as well.

Oh, to top it all off… the Galley app - being part of the system software - CANNOT be uninstalled!


I currently have an 1.3 GB completele upgrade of my Samsung OS ready to install, but I dread installing it as I probably have to spend a full hour again going through my entire phone to find subtle privacy-invading setting changes.

Dark patterns here: With updates/upgrades you can’t see full info of what is changed, you are continuously reminded to upgrade or postpone, and after a while you are forced to upgrade.

I’d say you’d be better off with an Apple device than any device running Google Android.

Foursquare is surveilling us, then selling this information. According to Foursquare:

“Track visits across devices, partners and channels… Target audiences based on key factors like taste preferences, demographics, and visit history. Reach 150 million unique users across mobile apps and web.”

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An update on eelo: Due to a name clash, the name eelo has been changed to /e/ and the website is now at:

The /e/ OS software has reached Beta status, and can already be installed on a number of common Android phone models.

My goodness. Couple of years ago, I sold my brand new LG G2 and bought a 2G phone. That was extreme. Bought back a smartphone. Now I am wondering. I love being in close touch with my loved ones, but at what cost? Maybe time to go back to good, old-fashioned phone calls, and keep my Internet activities to my computer. Both Google’s Android and Apple’s IOS are opening way too many backdoors for our privacy invasion.

Read a series of articles I’m writing for the Epoch Times to learn more about civil liberty, privacy, cyber security, safety and tech product user exploitation threats associated with smartphones supported by the android OS, Apple iOS and MS Windows OS:

Surveillance Capitalism- Monetizing the Smartphone User: https://www.theepochtimes.com/surveillance-capitalism-monetizing-the-smartphone-user_2686194.html

Legal Malware (Apps)- How Tech Giants Collect Your Personal and Professional Info: https://www.theepochtimes.com/legal-malware-apps-how-tech-giants-collect-personal-and-professional-info_2688724.html

When Smartphone Terms of Use Turn into Cyber-Enslavement Agreements: https://www.theepochtimes.com/when-smartphone-terms-of-use-become-cyber-enslavement-agreements_2693809.html

Once you read the articles you will be unplugged from the Silicon Valley Matrix: