Apps invade privacy of smartphone users

Going through Apple’s App Store, I always feel overwhelmed. There are so many apps to choose from that I go in looking to download one app and I end up downloading three or four. While it is always nice to have options, I am becoming concerned that we are in “app overload.” I am beginning to question where technology is going, particularly in the app world . Don’t get me wrong—I am a huge fan of many apps, particularly practical apps, such as those assisting businesses, like Square. I also love educational apps, like Duolingo and the Khan app that links one to Khan Academy educational videos. With that being said, looking at all the available apps has started to freak me out, as so many apps can be extremely overwhelming to the individual smartphone user.

For starters, I came across an app called Quicket. At first glance, this new app looks like one that may be helpful for those traveling by plane. The creators of Kwiket GmbH describe Quicket as a “multipurpose mobile application that aims to be a ‘one-stop-app for all your travel needs’” (App Store, “Quicket,” 11.2.14). The app can help one search for and book flights…and also follow who else is on the flight. That’s right, this app allows you to see who else is on the flight and access their Facebook profile.

Immediately, I questioned why this is necessary and was creeped out. I’m sorry, but I do not want complete strangers virtually stalking me because this app is giving out my information. My first concern was definitely consent and even though a spokesman made it clear that your fellow passengers won’t be able to spy on you without your consent, saying, “Only users who approve the social feature will be presented on the flight,” I still feel weird about the whole concept even being an option (DailyMail, “Taking creepy to new heights: New app lets you Facebook stalk your fellow passengers before boarding a plane,” 11.1.14 ).

What does it mean for me to give consent? Earlier this semester, I wrote a piece about Facebook putting consent in the fine print of their user agreement so that many were giving consent without realizing it, and now I wonder if simply buying a ticket to fly will one day give my consent for this app without my knowledge. Adding to my worry is the lack of information provided by the creators about not only this issue of consent, but security and, honestly, the app overall. On the creators’ website, their privacy statement does not include substantial information regarding consent, and the only advice they give on privacy protection is that minors should not use the app (Quicket.to, Privacy Policy, 2014). They also claim in the App Store to have great reviews from big names like Forbes, but I can’t find that review anywhere online.

Another app that has made me question the goal of apps is Gist LLC’s Deadline. Deadline is an app filed under Health & Fitness that supposedly tells you exactly when you are going to die. It uses data from Apple’s HealthKit (another app) if available and information you provide about your lifestyle to give you a best guess of “your date of expiration,” as the creators term it. The creators continue on, commenting, “You’re going to die.”

“Sorry, we all do eventually. Would it motivate you to be healthier?” Gist LLC writes on their app page. This app provides the user with a ticker, counting down to the very second of their estimated death. While it appears that the creators are hoping users will take up a healthier lifestyle to extend their ticker, I’m not sure the app is working how they thought it would. From reading reviews online from the DailyMail and other media sources, it appears the ticker has caused added stress and anxiety for a lot of users.

While technology that predicts death along with other aspects of life has been present for many years now, the fact that it combines with another health app has a lot of people feeling paranoid and a bit concerned. The reality is that this app is not based on science. Doctors in the healthcare field are not the ones providing you with life expectancy based on your health and lifestyle. According to Gizmodo, the app’s claims of being accurate are not entirely true, instead being just “a genetic algorithm that forecasts your death” (DailyMail, “The app that predicts when you’ll DIE: Deadline uses Apple’s HealthKit data to accurately count down to your demise,” 10.31.14).

Chris Mills, a writer for Gizmodo, goes on further, stating, “Most HealthKit apps are single-mindedly practical, created with the sole aim of making you healthier or tracking your sleep. This app is the opposite. This app wants to creep you out big time” (Gizmodo, “Creepy App Uses HealthKit To Say How Long You Have To Live,” 10.30.14). For me, I am just very confused by this app, and it saddens me that people want to make money so badly that they make apps with no merit like this to scare people and spread false information.

What these two apps have made me question is this: In what direction is the app technology going? Here, we have one app that may or may not let a stranger on my flight stalk me even before boarding, and another app that is trying to scare me. I think for me, it shows that I need to be a lot more careful with my app choices and be more selective with what I actually download. It’s also wise to check all the features of the apps and possibly look up the creators’ websites for more details before downloading. I wonder who thinks of this stuff, and why? What is the purpose? Is one simply looking for profit? Are we taking technology too far? Lots of questions are boiling in my mind, but at least I have the answer to one of them: When will I download my next app? Probably not for a very long time.

—Delaney Fischer ’15 is a neuroscience major.

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