Excessive data access from apps – a threat to individual privacy2020-10-12
Nurul Momen, doctoral student at the Department of Computer Science at Karlstad University, has investigated whether apps’ data access takes user integrity into account.
Let’s say, purely hypothetically, that there is an app for washing your hands. You start it for the first time and an interface shows on the screen saying: “Permission required to access water”. You press “Allow” and use the app to wash your hands. When you are done, you put the phone back in your pocket. But now you are not sure whether you remembered to revoked the permission to access water. Is it still running?
The above is part of the introduction to Nurul Momen’s thesis “Measuring apps’ privacy friendliness” and poses the question whether apps should respect the user’s privacy without the user having to calculate the balance between convenience and privacy.
Does it matter if apps have access to more data than necessary?
- Yes, and I believe that it is a bigger problem than we might think, says Nurul Momen. Today, behavioural data function as a commodity and can, with the help of advanced calculation technology, create predictions about our behaviour. Predictions of what we will do right now, soon and later. As an example, just look at all the apps used in virus tracing efforts at the moment.
- Companies do not need to produce their product – that is, information. It is produced through algorithms at a minimal cost. They use a small and highly educated workforce that can utilise the power of a massively capital-intensive infrastructure. Large computer companies thus have significant commercial advantages compared to traditional companies. There is a big dilemma to take into account here. So, yes, it does matter.
What do you hope your research can bring?
- Hopefully, it will contribute to greater transparency within the ecosystem of apps and thereby encourage fairness and equality. I also hope that my research can help strengthen Karlstad University’s research profile.