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If you’re an Indian, these apps are spying on you

Google Play Interface
Google Play Interface

After installing an app, most of us blindly grant all the permissions that the app asks for. If you are of them it is likely that somebody is spying on you.

Maybe it sounds absurd, but technically that is exactly what they are doing, in the rush of trying new games and app we don’t notice that a streaming app asked for your microphone access. Recently an article on FactorDaily explored some apps that are prevalent in India and they have your microphone access to record your ambient sounds and analyse them to target you with ads. 

Did you mutter flight to Goa when suddenly you start seeing Facebook ads for tickets to your city to Goa?

Several Indian apps record ambient noise

A Bengaluru based startup, Zapr Media Labs, is selling technology that allows companies to record the noise around you to identify user behaviours, what are they watching, where are they travelling, and use this information to build a profile of the user. Don’t believe us, take a look at the screenshot below from the popular WCC2 cricket game cade by Nextwave Multimedia that blatantly will ask you for location and microphone access to record you. And believe it or not, it is an Editor’s Choice.

WCC2 asking to record
WCC2 asking to record

Not the only offender

If you are using any of the below apps, you must check their permissions to see if you have granted them permission to record audio. These are the top 10 highest installed apps that we found.

#Name of the App
PublisherInstalls
1FacebookFacebook1 billion+
2HotstarNovi Digital
100 million+
3
JioTVReliance Industries Ltd.
100 million+
4SonyLIVSony Pictures Networks India Pvt. Ltd.50 million+
5NewsDogNewsDog Team
50 million+
6
World Cricket Championship 2Nextwave Multimedia
10 million+
7
Real Carrom 3D : MultiplayerNextwave Multimedia
10 million+
8
Motu Patlu GameNazara Games
10 million+
9
Chhota Bheem Speed RacingNazara Games
10 million+
10
Chhota Bheem Race GameNazara Games
5 million+

It’s imperative to read the notification while installing the application. Apart from the above, also check the permission for any apps from the following publishers

a) Games2win
b) Nazara Games
c) Nextwave Multimedia
d) JetSynthesys Inc

All of the above use Zapr’s technology to record.

Why only (or specifically) India?

For two simple reasons;

a) India is quickly emerging as a massive mobile penetration
b) India has little to no privacy laws protecting its citizens

India’s massive mobile reach and retail market

India has an internet user base of almost half a billion, that is almost 50% of its population has access to the internet, making it the second largest internet user base behind China (650 million, 48% of the population). A significant portion of the user base is the rural population who primarily rely on inexpensive smartphones and 3G/4G telecom penetration that has been spurred by its burgeoning telecom sector.

According to a study by Google India Research, Indian e-commerce is expected to grow to $100 billion by 2021 and the overall retail market will be almost $1 trillion.

In a country where people care more about discounts than their privacy, advertisers, and advertisement solution providers have had free reign. Combined with the shady (not illegal, just shady) practices by these firms to bury users in details or hide important information in pages of literature, has led to a situation where potentially almost 100 million users are being recorded without them actually understanding or knowing they are.

This has resulted in companies trying similar tactics pushing the boundaries of ethics.

It is even legal?

Surprisingly, it is not illegale, at least yet.

In an interview with FactorDaily, retired Supreme Court judge BN Srikrishna called the issue of apps recording the user, “A total breach of Policy”.

However, justice Srikrishna who heads the committe drafting India’s data privacy and protection bill which is being deliberated now, stated that, “Unless they give me clear cut indication that it is going to be used only by them (the app that hosts the code) for a specific purpose and not be shared with any other party, that amounts to breach”.

So unfortunately till the time the bill is passed by the Indian Parliament, it is totally legal for companies to record their users.

How do you protect yourself?

Once you have consented to the monitoring while installing the app revoking the consent is a complicated and long drawn process. However, the best option is still that you always judiciously and sceptically look at any permission that is requested by the app before  granting the request.

For example, a game with no multiplayer or a streaming app doesn’t need the ability to manage your phone call or open your microphone.

For a more detailed an thourough analysis read this post on slashdot.

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