How to protect privacy? Apple App Store, Google Play Store haven’t done a good job; check tip

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Anand Venkatanarayanan, CFO at HasGeek, says Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store haven’t done a great job when it comes to privacy – check out his top tip.

January 28 is globally celebrated as Data Privacy Day. The origins of this day come from the European Treaty of 1981 – Convention for the protection of individuals with regard to automatic processing of personal data. It was the first time in history that a governing body considered the need for data privacy in light of increased connectivity and access to information due to advances in technology. The day was first officially celebrated in 2007 by the Council of Europe and later became a symbolic day to speak out on data privacy issues and the challenges surrounding it. On this occasion, HT Tech spoke with Anand Venkatanarayanan, Chief Financial Officer at HasGeek. He explained how a user can protect their privacy while using “modern smartphones – the most privacy-intrusive devices on Earth”. According to Apple App Store and Google Play Store, it won’t be very useful, he says.

Venkatanarayanan is also a security researcher and writes about privacy and data protection issues on his blog Fractal Reality. Explaining the problems with modern smartphones, he said: “Like it or not, it’s ultimately a device. And just like how you can put a virus in a computer and remove it, smartphones are no different.” But does that mean users can’t protect themselves at all? To some extent, yes. But there are things everyone can do to maintain privacy and be more aware of how to ensure data protection.

Protecting your privacy when using a smartphone

Venkatanarayanan rightly states that “most people cannot live without their smartphone”. And that is extremely true. Most of us are guilty of checking notifications on our phone first thing in the morning and last time in the evening – and most of the time in between. Smartphones are a great utility tool that brings all the world’s information at your fingertips and a huge number of access to tools and services never experienced before in history. But are we going too far with indulgence? Many experts, including Venkatanarayanan, seem to agree.

“Users should install fewer apps and only download the apps you absolutely need. I know why people want more apps because it’s so easy to install them. But the data shows that if you’re a consumer, you don’t use more than 5-10 apps on average,” says Venkatanarayanan.

And that makes sense. Using more apps means sharing data with more parties. Moreover, it increases the likelihood of installing malware or spyware which might end up stealing all your sensitive information. But Venkatanarayanan thinks it should be an institutional responsibility to make sure malicious apps don’t exist in the marketplaces where users download their apps.

“It’s actually a problem whether the app you are downloading is spyware or not and neither the Apple App Store nor the Google Play Store has been able to prevent it. Both platforms contain lots of spammy malware and unfortunately the problem does not go away,” he added.

According to him, the solution to data protection for smartphone users should originate at the manufacturing level. He said: “In general, a lot of thought has to be given to how to make sure that smartphones are designed correctly and that data breaches shouldn’t happen.”

But until that happens, controlling the urge to download more apps than necessary should do the trick. Although this is not a privacy guarantee, it is one of the best practices that will protect smartphone users for the time being. Venkatanarayanan believes that “if you restrict yourself, you’ll be fine for the most part.”

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