Government may be using apps to spy on you

Monday, May 19, 2014
Government may be using apps to spy on you
Those free apps you use to chat with friends can store a lot of information about you. But should you worry about your personal privacy?

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Those free apps you use to chat with friends or the cloud storage you use to hold your documents and pictures can store a lot of information about you. But should you worry about your personal privacy?

Fresno City College student Reaya McDowell wasn't surprised when Snapchat's makers got in trouble with the FTC for misleading users on its so-called disappearing messages

"You can just send funny pictures to your friends then it kinda disappears, but then at the same time it don't because you can screenshot, and you can save the picture," said McDowell. "So, I really feel like, it needs to be common sense needs to be used before you download that app."

Turns out the company also collected users' contact information from their address books without asking their permission or letting them know about the practice. Digital privacy advocate Nico Sell says that's just the tip of the iceberg.

"There's been many stories about Skype working with governments all over the world," said Sell. "Even Snapchat has let people know that they've given snaps to the FBI."

FCC student Alejandra Lopez relies on cloud storage to free up space on her laptop.

"It puts your documents there, your pictures there and it does it all automatically unless you tell it otherwise," said Lopez.

As devices get smaller and the need for mobility and access to data grows, cloud storage is becoming an increasingly popular option. But at what cost? Privacy experts say your personal security and privacy is at risk.

The latest papers from NSA leaker Edward Snowden show the government asking tech companies for the keys to information you store online -- including your pictures, files, email, private conversations.

"The government believes it can get your information from a cloud service. And that's not going to violate your constitutional rights. I believe that's wrong," said David Greene, an Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney.

But it goes beyond the cloud. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says your phone calls carry metadata with who you called and when -- data the NSA says it has a right to look at.

"If it wasn't useful information, the government wouldn't want it," said Greene.

At a tiny lab at Stanford, researchers are working on a project called MetaPhone. The goal is to find out what spy agencies can learn from metadata, when they have a whole lot of it.

"You wouldn't expect just your call logs to tell you, 'OK, I'm dating someone or not.' And who I might be dating," said Patrick Mutchler, a Stanford Ph.D. student.

But they wrote a program that does just that. They can also tell who you bank with and make a pretty good guess about your health.

The technology industry is starting to come up with solutions to protect your privacy. Products like Pixeom -- an alternative to Dropbox and Google drive, where you host your own tiny cloud service at home.

"We can provide them everything we have, turn over all our data, but in the end, the consumers are the ones who are encrypting it themselves," said Sam Nagar, Pixeom co-founder.

The messaging app Wickr competes with Snapchat, and eventually Skype. It pledges to encrypt everything and store nothing.