Prevent apps from spying on your phone.

How many of us have shared secrets, disciplined our children, sought council on how to address a work or family issue, discussed sensitive financial challenges or had a private moment with our children or loved ones in the presence of our smartphones? Most of us? All of us? These are common occurrences in our daily lives which typically happen behind closed doors due to the sensitive nature of the information being discussed or the actions occurring. People say, “you never know what goes on behind closed doors”, until now.

In late October of 2017, Felix Krause announced a “privacy setting in Apple’s iOS enabled iPhone apps with camera permission to surreptitiously take photos and videos of you – without your knowledge”. All that is required by a user is to grant permission to an application to use your camera. That’s it! How many apps require access to your camera? Thousands? Tens-of-thousands? Just think about the social media apps you use. Once the permission is granted, the app can turn on your camera or video at will.

Think about where your phone is during your private moments. Often right next to you, in your hand, in a pocket, or on a table nearby. If you are talking to your children their phone is likely in their hands and social media is most certainly running. At least that is how it is in my house. Think of how many phones are in your home. Each phone is a conduit for someone who would like to know what you are saying or doing behind closed doors.

Many of us adamantly believe no one would be interested in what is said or done within our household. I challenge you to think about who would benefit by knowing about the car accident you were just in (was it your fault or someone else’s?), the fight you and your spouse recently had, the child you disciplined last night (did you spank them?) or the illness you or a family member is attempting to address without others knowing. Now think about the second or third glass of wine you had with dinner, what if your camera took a picture or video where you were seen consuming alcohol. Do you want someone to have that picture or video especially if you drove home? What would a court of law do with that picture if you were in an accident? Apps now have the ability to take control of your camera at will because we said it was OK by granting them permission to use our cameras. We have opened the door and invited them in. Now we need to figure out how to live with our “invited” guests. We all have information we would like to keep to ourselves. The challenge is how to keep that information private and still use the apps which make our lives easier and more robust.

So how can we protect ourselves and still use our apps? Here are a few ideas:

  • “Park” your phone when you get home. Find a location to charge your phone and leave it there preferably in a public part of your home. This is the approach I use in my own home, but my children do not. The thought of prying their phone from their grasp is paramount to sucking out their life’s blood. Well maybe that is a bit overstated, but you get the point. The result is that any conversation in my house which includes my children also includes one or more phones. All it takes is one phone to record the conversation.
  • Close your apps when you are not using them. This is a great option if you are meticulous about maintaining your phone. Let’s just say…not many people have the personal discipline to support this approach.
  • Turn off camera access for all apps - this approach is interesting but limits your ability to gain the full benefit of the apps you enjoy like being able to send photos or videos straight from an app.
  • Invest in a mobile security platform for your smartphone. We, at Privoro, offer a unique solution to the app/camera permissions issue. The Privoro SafeCase and Privoro Privacy Guard enable you to choose when you want to take a picture or video while allowing you to use all the features of the app when you need them. The case covers your camera and blocks your microphones when you do not need them. When you choose to take a picture or a video it is as simple as raising the hood and you are ready to go. Now the apps can have the permissions they require, and you can have the control you desire.

I encourage you to put the power back in your hands not in the hands of apps. Take control of your camera by finding the approach which works best for you and makes you the most comfortable.

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