Tag Archives: Facebook

Ebook reading, travel, and other mobile apps may be leaking private data to Facebook

2019-03-25

Writers, ebook lovers, travelers, and anyone who is using downloaded applications on their mobile phones or tablets are silently leaking their personal data to Facebook. A research organization has published a study that shows how apps, including popular travel applications like TripAdvisor, Kayak, Yelp and Skyscanner continuously transmitted users’ private data to Facebook.

An earlier study indicated that 42.55% of free apps on the Google Play Store sent private data to Facebook without having users’ permission to do so. A recent study published in December 2018 discovered that at least 61% of tested mobile apps automatically transmitted personal data to Facebook the very moment the app is opened. The apps transmit a set of data to Facebook in every case: whether the user has a Facebook account or not, or whether the user is logged into Facebook or not.

Privacy International, a non-profit organisation based in London, conducted the research that discovered how extensive the leaking of private data from mobile apps is. The study focused only on Android apps downloaded from the Google Play Store, and their silent background connection to Facebook.
Kayak app screen capture
Privacy International tested many types of apps, trying to find out if they connected to Facebook servers. For instance, all tested travel applications – Tripadvisor, Yelp, Kayak, and Skyscanner (as reported by Skift) – sent data to Facebook. In addition, Kayak and Skyscanner also sent user’s Google ad id to Facebook. This, however, is not the only nasty problem travel booking apps have: they are also seriously troubled by fake reviews and misleading travel product information.

Four months after the Privacy International research paper was published, some apps were re-tested. Cnet reported that Yelp, Duolingo, Indeed, and a few religious apps were still sharing user data without having a permission to do so. Music library Spotify, and travel apps Skyscanner and Kayak don’t automatically connect with Facebook anymore.

Mobile apps send plenty of data to Facebook in the background

The report concludes that the largest set of data was leaked by the Kayak app. User’s private information that Kayak provided to Facebook included:

When the search was done
Name of the app
Google advertising id
Departure city, airport, and date
Arrival city, airport, and date
Number of tickets, including number of children
Class of tickets (economy, business or first class)

Facebook hasn’t told exactly what it does with the data it receives from the apps. The peculiar thing with this discovery is that the apps send user data to Facebook. It doesn’t matter if the user has a Facebook account, the data is always transmitted to the social media giant.

Nonetheless, Facebook explained how the data is collected. The company provides application developers with programming tools – a Software Development Kit (SDK) – that they can use, for instance, for identifying the user, for getting statistics, and for displaying ads in the app. Once a programmer includes the Facebook provided identification in the app, it starts sending data to the social media service databases.

The major observations of the Facebook data leak study

Observation 1: at least 61 percent of apps tested automatically transferred data to Facebook. This concerns all users – with and without Facebook account, or whether they are logged into Facebook or not.

Observation 2: Many apps send the user’s unique Google ad id to Facebook as well. It is an ad targeting id that is unique to the user. Using this id and data from apps, the user can be identified.

Observation 3: Some apps continuously send Facebook data that is detailed and often sensitive. Travel booking app Kayak was a prime example of this activity (as listed above).

Observation 4: For a normal mobile app user, it is practically impossible to prevent apps from sending data to Facebook. The research report proposes a high-tech solution that involves installing a firewall on the phone that can prevent traffic to specified addresses (using a firewall app such as AFWall+ or NetGuard). Changing Facebook’s privacy settings did not prevent tracking.

Tips for preventing apps from leaking private data to Facebook

tripadvisor app on phone, screen shot

The safest option is not to install an app at all, especially if an alternative exists.
Once an app has been downloaded, and the app is opened on the mobile device, there is practically nothing a user can do to prevent it from leaking data. Installing and configuring a firewall is something an ordinary people won’t do.
In some cases, accessing a social media or another service in a browser can be a safer alternative than an app. The research team tested the Opera browser, and discovered it doesn’t send data to Facebook. Dropbox is application that keeps your data away from Facebook’s databases as well.

Change to a phone that is running on secure operating system
The research argues that Google is even bigger private data collector than Facebook. To stop Google and Facebook getting your personal data, finding a phone that doesn’t run on Android is an option. Apple iPhone is the major brand that also claims they care about customers’ privacy. Even Apple can’t completely prevent independent apps from sending data to other parties.
The best choice is to change to an open source software that has been reviewed by experts. One of them is /e/ (eelo) operating system, but at the moment, it requires an experienced techie to install it on a phone.

GDPR will affect rogue practices
The European Union online privacy regulation known as GDPR has been in effect since May 2018. The first court cases that define how it is applied have been started. Regarding GDPR, Facebook argues it is the application developer’s responsibility to manage it follows the GDPR rules. GDPR is intended to protect people from businesses that are collecting their data without permission, so the laws will have an impact on these malpractices sooner or later.

Ebook news digest: how to loan a Kindle book, Facebook Messenger delivers ebooks, writing test

2018-11-01

News on ebooks, writing and photography

Amazon Kindle ereader on PC keyboard
How to share books on a Kindle

How many Amazon Kindle ereader owners knew that it is possible to loan ebooks from own account to friends and family? Well, it is actually quite easy. When you loan an ebook to someone else, it disappears from your Kindle for the loan period (max 14 days). Also other ways to share Kindle ebooks are shown in the PC World article.

Five Top Tips for Successful Co-writing

Aria Grace at Self-Publishing Advice collaborated with other writers when they wanted to publish a book. The teamwork resulted in a success. Here are the macro-level tips for co-writing projects for us to learn from.

James Patterson on his new Facebook Messenger digital book: You’ve never seen anything like it

CNBC Squawk Box television show interviewed author James Patterson who took the opportunity to tell about his new digital multimedia ebook that is delivered via Facebook Messenger. The book The Chef has been written like a traditional book and will be published like one, but a short version of it has been tailored for Facebook Messenger. The way it works is that a reader receives messages that include text, photos and video clips in a sequence that makes up the book. Why I am not excited about this is that I don’t believe fiction books benefit from video clips or other multimedia material that depict the story that is already explained as text. Nonfiction ebooks benefit from additional media items because they can elaborate a topic.

Photographing London: Iconic Locations and Hidden Gems

If you are planning a trip to London, you may already have ideas where to take those obligatory selfies. Spend a few more minutes at London’s landmark sights and you can find new angles for your travel photos. The Photo Team has put together a handy guide for photographing the best sights and neighborhoods of London. The guide also includes tips for improving your chances of getting that perfect Instagram travel shot.

The Honest Tribe

Max Boyle was so intrigued about a Nordic nation that linguistic Richard Lewis had called the honest tribe that Boyle decided to find out what the Scandinavian country’s secret was. After publishing travel books that told about other Northern European countries, his next destination was Finland. Multiple times, in fact. What he experienced, what he saw, liked, and didn’t like is now available in his entertaining book.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Editors (According to Novelists)

Writer’s Digest asked authors what they hated the most during the process they worked with an editor whose job was to improve the manuscript. The article makes excellent points on the sensitivity of an editor’s work, and lets editors also respond why writers sometimes don’t appreciate the help they are getting.

Apple’s newest iPad Pros hands-on: The iPad X we expected

A hands-on test of the new October 2018 Ipad Pro models by Cnet indicates that the Apple tablet has become a full-blown computer that challenges laptops. When the Apple iPad was introduced in 2010, we started using them for reading ebooks, following news, viewing YouTube videos, communicating via email, and for many other tasks whenever an app was available. Now that the iPad Pro contains the processing power of a big and powerful computer, comes with a Pencil, and a keyboard/case is available, it is time to think about it as a laptop computer – a new kind of PC, but a PC, anyhow.

Can Your Writing Pass This Test? Take It to Find Out

This simple test by Business Writing blog made me think. Not only my own writing, but also two self-published nonfiction ebooks that I had recently downloaded from Amazon. Both books began with an Introduction that included typos, minor errors and a handful of abbreviations. Both authors are experts who have deep knowledge in their field, but writing a book to a general audience is something else. Nonetheless, the test in the article is suitable if you are planning a blog post, long email message, or anything else where you have to explain something to a reader.

Best Android apps for writing your next novel

Slashgear has reviewed a bunch of writing applications that run on Android phones and tablets. That’s right. Dedicated writing apps are available for smartphones and tablets because you never know when the inspiration hits. I’m going to try one or two and see if I am more or less productive on my phone. Here is our round-up of writing apps for PCs.

book cover image: The Honest Tribe by Max Boyle

The five tech giants are also media business giants that dominate the distribution of ebooks

2017-10-23

Five tech giants, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are marketing products that most of us use daily – some people perhaps use them most of the hours they are awake. Each of these tech giants is – one way or another – a media company. Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft sell digital media products from their online stores. Facebook and Google are categorized as publishers in a number of markets, because they distribute news and information to the public. All these companies have enormous powers to promote or block items and products.
Microsoft ebook store in the Edge web browser
Facebook reports it has more than two billion active users on its social media service. About 45 percent of American adults get news from Facebook. Although Facebook doesn’t admit it is a media company, that’s how it is treated, for instance, within EU.

Google’s search market share in the U.S. approaches 86 percent, whereas in Europe it is over 90 percent. Google’s primary business is advertising, but the Play Store features music, movies and ebooks as well.

About 43 percent of all online retail sales in the U.S. last year went through Amazon. The vast majority of ebook sales in the U.S. is conducted by Amazon.

Microsoft has a dominant position in PC software with its Windows software, and Apple has grown to the most valuable company in the world because of its computers and mobile devices that customers are ready to pay premium for.

Curiously enough, four companies out of five tech giants are also booksellers. Only Facebook hasn’t opened an ebook store.
Amazon Kindle Store
Amazon, of course, gets the credit for facilitating the ebook’s breakthrough into a mass market product with the Kindle and low ebook prices. The company is the undisputable leader of the ebook business in the world. Not only has Amazon a role as a book retailer, but the company is also a book publisher, translation firm and a marketer.

Apple was the pioneer of music downloads with the iTunes Store where people could find MP3 songs for their iPods and PCs. Ebooks were introduced to the iBooks store along with the iPad tablet.

Google started scanning printed books from libraries because the company wanted to archive and index all the information in the world. Many years and legal problems later, Google has agreements with publishers to sell their ebooks at the Play Store.

Microsoft has marketed applications and games in its digital download store, and has added ebooks to the store as well, although the market coverage is limited at the moment. The new Edge web browser can open EPUB books without any additional plugins or tricks.
Google Play Books store for ebooks

What do the tech giants’ media businesses mean for ebooks?

If we think about the global ebook business, the tech giants dominate the distribution of digital products to customers. Only Kobo has the global reach that is anywhere close to the giants, but Kobo probably does not have the customer base to generate the same amount of sales as the tech giants.

In every market, local online bookstores compete against the global giants. In many markets, local booksellers may have a larger market share than the giants. Tolino in Central Europe, for instance, is a strong brand and sales channel for ebooks in the German speaking part of the world.

For tech giants, ebooks are not necessarily the core products they will bet their futures on. Tech companies’ priorities are in software, cloud services, hardware, artificial intelligence, and in other new technologies. Amazon is the only company that (at the moment) is an online retailer first, and technology supports that goal.
Apple iBooks Store
Let’s take a look at other types of digital media products and which companies dominate those markets. Online movies and television shows are streamed and downloaded from Netflix and Hulu. Music is discovered and streamed to homes and mobile devices from Spotify and Pandora.

Only ebooks are purchased from tech giants. Isn’t it a bit strange?

Perhaps ebook subscription services, like Scribd, 24 Symbols, Storytel, Bookmate will change the landscape of distribution of ebooks one day. Perhaps Kobo is able to compete against the giants in the future. Perhaps a group of investors believes there is a place for an independent global bookstore and establishes one that is in line with the interests of the ebook trade.