The WhatsApp Privacy Policy chatter continues as the company has now said it will be extending the deadline for users to accept its Privacy Policy to 15 May 2021. However, the conversation that is missing for weeks during all this chatter is the broader talk about the data that the popular apps we use collect about us and our devices.

The reality is that, if we are being honest with ourselves, most of the popular apps we use and have become part of our daily lives behave like spyware. If we are to believe Edward Snowden and some of the information he has shared over the years, they are spyware if you take into consideration how they co-operate with the USA government with regards to sharing user data and allowing backdoors.

Social media and instant messaging platforms have become popular and part of our daily lives. But, have you ever wondered what some of them know about you that even your family and friends don't know?

This time I am not exaggerating when I say they are spyware.

Take Facebook for example. In 2019 it was discovered that Facebook is "embedding tracking data inside photos you download" from social media platform. Β There are many reasons why Facebook did this (still does?), one of them being that it could give them the ability to track their users when they go off Facebook and where else they share this data.

The best description of how Facebook is possibly behaving like spyware with this type of tracking is best described below by Reddit user, SongForPenny:

Upload picture, and Facebook tags it with a secretly embedded tag: A008E8E97FA55

Friend "A" on Facebook downloads it.

Friend "A" texts it to another friend - someone you don't know, their friend Friend "B", and another friend of theirs Friend "C."

Friend "B" isn't on Facebook, or maybe they mostly just post to Reddit.

Friend "B" posts to Reddit. Facebook sees this (by scouring Reddit systematically, the way search engines scour the entire 'web' in general). After seeing this a few times, quickly repeated, Facebook now knows you are somewhat close to Friend "B."

So now Facebook knows who another of your "Friend of a Friend" connections are - a person you don't even know about yourself!

Here comes the second trick: Friend "C" (another person who is friends with "A") actually **does** upload to Facebook. They got the text message, too. Friend "C" re-uploads the image, from the text message they got.

Facebook sees this, and knows that you are communicating indirectly to Friend C, or someone close to Friend C (ie: Friend "A"). Again, you don't know Friend C, either, but Facebook knows you are close to Friend C.

Now Friend "C" uploads the picture you uploaded ... but now Facebook puts a NEW secret tag on it. Facebook changes A008E8E97FA55 to BD0GE4EAG3A11.

Now Facebook can see if Friend "C" texted it to another person - Friend "X", or if that person is a friend of YOURS. Or maybe neither you, nor C know X, but you likely are friends of a friend of X, and friend A is less likely to be close to X than you and Friend C are. Not only can they track which picture goes where and when, but they can see the sequence of movements with astonishing accuracy.

Repeat this activity on a large scale, and now Facebook knows your Facebook friends, Facebook followers, and your real-world friends, co-workers, and associations. They even know your "friends of friends" (people you don't know) and their buying and lifestyle details, and yours, and how your friendship circles fit together, even outside of Facebook.

It's also important to highlight that this embedding of tracking data inside images is not something that they detail in their Privacy Policy or anywhere else, which makes you wonder what else Facebook and other platforms that we use are up to.

It gets more worrying when you also start to hear details of what another popular platform, TikTok, does. It turns out that while you are busy being entertained or informed by videos on TikTok, the app is doing a whole lot of data collection that you are possibly not aware of. Although there have been suspicions of TikTok's data collection activities, this was confirmed by a software programmer who leaked TikTok's source code on GitHub.

Among a long list of data that collects in the background, it collects the following:

  • Biometric data (facial recognition)
  • Constant location tracking.
  • Screenshots saved on the user's smartphone.
  • Details about the Wi-Fi networks the user's smartphone connects to.
  • Phone call details.

It's also not limited to Facebook and TikTok, it is most of the popular apps we use as listed in the infographic above.

So, as the saying goes, if it's free, you are the product.

You must be aware of what data is being collected by your favorite apps, it's also important that you check out today's top stories.

πŸ•΅οΈ Here are more details on what TikTok effectively does. Link

😒 R.I.P. David Ntekim-Rex, a 22-year software engineer from Lagos who worked at Fintech company Crevatal. β€œDavid got shot around 8 pm. The police were called, David hadn’t died yet. The Nigerian police stood and watched as he gasped for air. They took pictures instead and were more concerned with why he – a tech guy- was carrying a laptop. Nigeria failed you, David,” tweeted one eyewitness in Lagos. Link

πŸ—³οΈ Like a (not-so) well-oiled machine, as soon as Uganda's official election body declared Yoweri Museveni, the 35-years incumbent as the winner of the elections, the government spokesperson announced that the internet was switched back on in the country. However, social media access appears to still be a problem. Link

πŸ“ˆ Details have emerged regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on computer hardware and mobile phone sales in Egypt. The mobile market in Egypt declined by between 4%-5% during 2020, as the volume of sales of smartphones and accessories reached about EGP 47bn. At the same time, computer sales in Egypt grew to 500,000 in 2020. Link

Today's Quote

It's not just WhatsApp or Facebook, most popular apps are effectively spyware based on the data they collect about us and our devices. (Tweet this | Share on WhatsApp)

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