Hey Chaps, Check Those Apps (Lest NSA Does It for You)

NSA Tracking User Information Through Smartphone Applications

Remember Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor turned whistleblower? His still-unfolding saga is in the news on a regular basis, so of course you do. Well, among other things, the latest documents he published state that American and British spies have been mining information on intelligence targets from smart phone apps. And, since you likely have a smart phone of your own, and said smart phone likely has a pantload of apps on it (because why have a smart phone otherwise?), the NSA may well be checking in on you, too.

Mobile apps are a pretty perfect venue for NSA-types to gather info from, as apps are widely known to have less-than-sterling security records. It is not uncommon for apps to transmit identifying information about their users, their location, etc. to outside parties—and most of them that do this do so without users’ knowledge, and, one can deduce, without their permission.

Ever notice how when you upload a photo from your smart phone straight to your stupid Facebook page, it automatically has the location tagged with it? Well, the NSA noticed that, too. I’m not saying that these cyberspooks are keeping tabs on exactly where you are and what you’re doing right now by tracking the info that your smart phone is automagically pooping out, because maybe you’re not on their list (whatever said list may be). But I’m also not saying that the NSA isn’t keeping tabs on you, whether you’re on whatever list or not, because maybe they have fudge all else to do.

What to do about this? The first option is to not have a smart phone. It may not be the most attractive of the bunch, because everybody wants (not needs) a smart phone nowadays, but it is the only foolproof option. No smart phone, no apps; no apps, no info to secretly track.

A second option is to—*gasp*—pay attention to what you’re downloading to your smart phone. From what I’ve seen, most apps give you some sort of “Security Terms & Conditions” spiel before they install on your phone, so maybe actually read that before you click “OK”. It may tell you that, yeah, sorry, we will be transmitting your info and there’s nothing you can do about it (except not install the app). Others may point out how to prevent them from doing so—it usually takes no more than a few adjustments in the settings.

The third and final option is probably my favorite. Simply register everything about your smart phone—from the calling/data plan you get from your provider to your email to your apps—under a pseudonym. That way, the NSA can track you all they want and you’ll still be a step ahead of them. I recommend “Edward S. Nowden”—they’ll never suspect a thing.

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