16-Feb-2012 18:33

Is your Private Data Really Secure? Hmmm…

The BBC have reported that Twitter has admitted copying entire address books from smartphones and storing the data on its servers - often without customers' knowledge.

Access to the address book is enabled when users click on the "Find Friends" feature on smartphone apps.

The practice came to light when an applications developer in Singapore, Arun Thampi, noticed that his contacts had been copied from his iPhone address book without his consent by a social network called Path.

Dave Morin, CEO of Path, apologised and said Path would ask users to opt in to share their contact information.

However, he noted separately that it was an ‘industry best practice’ to upload or import address book information.

iPhone apps by social sites including Facebook, FourSquare, Instagram, Foodspotting and Yelp are also reported to access the address book.

Critics have noted that these apps are all available for download from Apple's iTunes store, even though the practice of copying address book contacts without prior consent appears to violate its user guidelines.

The Apple guidelines say: "Apps that read or write data outside its designated container area will be rejected." They add: "Apps cannot transmit data about a user without obtaining the user's prior permission."

Social networks have said that data taken from smartphones - which includes names, phone numbers and email addresses - is used only to identify friends who used the same service, and notify the user.

But sometimes the data appears to be taken without first informing the user, or indicating how long the information will be saved for.

Twitter said it would update its app in the wake of the disclosure, and clarify its privacy policy for users.

However, the Los Angeles Times reported that the app in fact uploads every address book contact and stores it for 18 months - something not made clear by the app.

A worrying little admission, wouldn’t you agree!

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