Investigation reveals Facebook is spying on smartphone users' personal text messages

Thursday, March 01, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: Facebook, spying, smartphones

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(NaturalNews) As early as the late 1970s, there have been privacy concerns in the so-called "information age." And why not? At every stage since the widespread acceptance and use of the computer, and especially the Internet, someone has been trying to invade your privacy.

The latest infringement comes from Facebook, and some other companies, which has resorted to spying on smartphone users' personal text messages, according to a London Times investigation. Users who had downloaded the app for the world's largest social network were subject to the infringement.

For their part, Facebook wasn't alone. According to the London Times, which investigated the privacy violations, photo-sharing site Flickr, dating site Badoo and Yahoo Messenger were also accessing personal texts.

Privacy a 'precious commodity'

The report claimed that some apps even permitted companies to intercept phone calls. Still others, such as YouTube, "are capable of remotely accessing and operating users' smartphone cameras to take photographs or videos at any time," a separate report said.

Smaller firms were also in on the act. They included My Remote Lock (which, ironically, is supposed to be a security app), and the app Tennis Juggling Game. They, too, can supposedly intercept calls.

"Your personal information is a precious commodity, and companies will go to great lengths to get their hands on as much of it as possible," said Emma Draper, of the Privacy International campaign group.

Facebook officials are spinning the spying as little more than investigative field work, saying the world's largest social network is planning on launching its own messaging service soon and, well, needed to observe how one works in the real (virtual?) world.

Oh, and Facebook officials are also hiding behind the old, "You gave us permission when you agreed to download the app" excuse, which 70 percent of downloaders never read, according to a YouGov survey conducted for the Times.

"The Sunday Times has done some creative conspiracy theorizing but the suggestion that we're secretly reading people's texts is ridiculous," Andrew Noyes, a company spokesman, said in a statement following the Times report. "Instead, the permission is clearly disclosed on the app page in the Android marketplace and is in anticipation of new features that enable users to integrate Facebook features with their texts. However, other than some very limited testing, we haven't launched anything so we're not using the permission.

Iain Mackenzie, Facebook's European communication lead, continued to company line, even denying the company was looking to develop its own messaging software.

"Just as an aside...we didn't say we're launching a messenger product," he said.

Violations of your privacy more the rule than exception

Sound familiar? It should. Reports surface fairly regularly now that we're fully engulfed in the Information Age that your privacy rights are being completely trampled.

So regular are Facebook's alleged violations of your privacy that even the Federal Trade Commission has looked into them.

"But Facebook is a big fish. Today, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller fish -- many in the form of apps for smartphones, which are dealing with the same kind of access to your data that Facebook enjoys but with far less scrutiny," writes Joshua Topolsky for The Washington Post.

And that's what seems to be the problem. There are so many regular electronic privacy violations that more must be done to ensure that all the loopholes are closed.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recommends a few. First, Congress should update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 198' (when there was no commercial World Wide Web and no one carried cell phones). That would include a "robust" plan to protect all personal electronic information; institute appropriate oversight and reporting mechanisms; and require safeguards for location information.

"Privacy law doesn't auto-update," says the ACLU. "The Founding Fathers recognized that citizens in a democracy need privacy for their 'persons, houses, papers, and effects.' That remains as true as ever; today's citizens deserve no less protection just because their papers and effects' might be stored electronically."

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