Protecting Your Privacy, One App at a Time

By: Chris Conley

Apple (and, to a lesser extent, Google) has dominated the recent headlines after news broke that iPhones and iPads keep a massive log of your location history in a hidden but unencrypted file on the device. It's a good reminder that technology can certainly pose a threat to privacy by making it hard for you to control and protect your own personal information.

But that's not always the case. There are other apps out there that are specifically designed to do the opposite: to give you more choices and greater control over the information about you that is collected and shared.

About two weeks ago, researchers at North Carolina State University released a tool called "Taming Information-Stealing Smartphone Applications" (TISSA for short) that does exactly that. TISSA allows users to choose exactly how much information to share with applications. You can choose to "trust" an application with the exact information it asks for, "anonymize" your information to provide some information without fine-grained detail, provide "bogus" information rather than your actual information, or simply provide nothing at all. And you can mix and match within an application: you might trust an app with your actual location but refuse to share your contact list, or vice versa.

This is exactly the sort of tool we have been hoping to encourage with our Develop 4 Privacy Challenge. When developers focus on building tools to protect or enhance privacy, we have an opportunity to level the playing field and give individuals the ability to use their smartphones or other devices without losing control of their personal information. So if you've built an app that can improve mobile privacy, please submit it to the Challenge. (And if you've got an idea but haven't built it yet, get cracking -- the deadline for submissions is May 31!)

Chris Conley is the Technology and Civil Liberties Fellow with the ACLU of Northern California.