"Informing You Without Watching you."  @digitalprivacy, Fri 09/23:
Study of Electronic Monitoring Smartphone Apps Confirms Advocates’ Concerns of Privacy Harms

Researchers at the University of Washington and Harvard Law School recently published a groundbreaking study analyzing the technical capabilities of 16 electronic monitoring (EM) smartphone apps used as “alternatives” to criminal and civil detention. The way it works is simple: in lieu of incarceration/detention or an ankle monitor, a person agrees to download an EM app on their own phone that allows the agency to track the person’s location and may require the person to submit to additional conditions such as check-ins involving face or voice recognition. The low costs associated with requiring a person to use their own device for EM likely explains the explosion of EM apps in recent years. Such a high usage calls for a greater need for public understanding of these apps and the information they collect, retain, and share. Information Flows

The study aimed to capture the kinds of network traffic these apps sent during normal operation, but was limited by not having active accounts for any of the apps (either because the researchers could not create their own accounts or did not do so to avoid agreeing to terms of service). Even still, by installing software that allows them to snoop on app communications, they were able to draw some worrying conclusions on a few studied apps. Nearly half of the apps made requests to web domains that could be uniquely associated with the app. There are still a number of important open questions about what data they send and how they send it. But as we’ve argued in other contexts, so-called “consent searches” are a legal fiction. They often occur in high-coercion settings, such as traffic stops or home searches, and leave little room for the average person to feel comfortable saying no.

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