Devil is in the de­tails

So­cial net­work sites know more about you than you re­alise, writes Jen­nifer Dud­ley-ni­chol­son

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Front Page -

THEY know who you are, they know where you are and they may even have the right to al­ter and sell your pho­to­graphs. So­cial net­work­ing web­sites are gath­er­ing an un­prece­dented amount of de­tail about the peo­ple us­ing their ser­vices, from the mo­bile phones they use to the peo­ple they call and how long they spend on the phone with them.

One blog­ging app was even caught up­load­ing users’ ad­dress books to its web servers with­out per­mis­sion.

But ex­perts say the web­sites could be act­ing with im­mu­nity, as users sim­ply keep click­ing ‘‘ Next’’ on terms of ser­vice with­out read­ing what they’re sign­ing up for.

On­line privacy again leapt into the spot­light last week af­ter 13 phone users launched a law­suit against 16 in­ter­net and tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Face­book, Twit­ter, In­sta­gram, Foursquare, Rovio, Elec­tronic Arts and Ap­ple.

The class ac­tion by the Ap­ple iphone and Google An­droid phone users from Austin, Texas, al­leges the com­pa­nies are min­ing users’ ad­dress books with­out per­mis­sion and seeks an in­junc­tion to stop this.

‘‘ The de­fen­dants — sev­eral of the world’s largest and most in­flu­en­tial tech­nol­ogy and so­cial net­work­ing com­pa­nies — have . . . made, dis­trib­uted and sold mo­bile soft­ware ap­pli­ca­tions that, once in­stalled on a wire­less mo­bile de­vice, sur­rep­ti­tiously harvest, up­load and il­le­gally steal the owner’s ad­dress book data with­out the owner’s knowl­edge or con­sent,’’ the com­plaint reads.

The law­suit fol­lows news last month that pop­u­lar phone blog­ging app Path had se­cretly down­loaded con­tacts from its users’ phones and saved the de­tails on its com­puter servers.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive Dave Morin apol­o­gised to users, telling them the com­pany was ‘‘ deeply sorry if you were un­com­fort­able with how our ap­pli­ca­tion used your phone con­tacts’’.

Twit­ter also came un­der fire for its app’s use of smart­phone ad­dress books in its Find Friends fea­ture.

Ex­perts are also eye­ing off Google, which this month launched a new privacy pol­icy al­low­ing the com­pany to cre­ate com­pre­hen­sive pro­files of its users by com­bin­ing web search data with email, Youtube, Map searches and other shared in­for­ma­tion.

The new pol­icy, de­scribed be­low, even re­serves the right to mon­i­tor a user’s phone calls, from the time they were placed to their du­ra­tion.

But Curtin Univer­sity in­for­ma­tion sys­tems school head Dr Peter Dell says that, even if apps and web ser­vices do ask for per­mis­sion to ac­cess a user’s most sen­si­tive data, most users sim­ply agree with­out read­ing the re­quests.

‘‘ I don’t re­mem­ber the last time I read the terms of ser­vice for an app, a share­ware pro- gram or even shrink-wrapped soft­ware I pur­chased from a store,’’ he says. ‘‘ You just see the terms and click ‘ next’ . . .

‘‘ Those 13 peo­ple in Texas might have read the fine print, but most peo­ple don’t.

‘‘ Peo­ple don’t seem to re­alise that once the tooth­paste is out of the tube you can’t put it back in,’’ he says.

Switched On sur­veyed lengthy privacy state­ments from four of the top so­cial net­work­ing sites to de­liver a taste of what you may have al­ready agreed to share. In­for­ma­tion grab: Tech com­pa­nies such as Face­book and Google are gath­er­ing vast amounts of data about their users.

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