Pandora subpoenaed over privacy of iPhone, Android apps
Part of industry-wide dragnet
A federal grand jury has subpoenaed online radio service Pandora for documents related to the privacy of smartphone apps it offers for Apple's iPhone and Google's Android operating system.
The document demand, which was made earlier this year, was part of a larger set of subpoenas issued on an industry-wide basis to publishers of smartphone apps, Pandora said in a filing issued Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The California-based company doesn't believe it's the target of the investigation, the filing said.
The revelation came as The New York Times reported that federal prosecutors in New Jersey are investigating whether smartphone apps have been illegally collecting information about handset users without proper disclosures. The probe, according to an unnamed person familiar with the matter, is examining whether app makers provided adequate legal notice before tracking information such as the user's geographic whereabouts and the unique identifier of their phone.
The investigation is the latest sign of unease about the wealth of personal details being swept up by online services eager to deliver advertisements targeted to specific users. In early December, the Federal Trade Commission recommended consumers be given a “do not track” option that prevents websites and advertisers from compiling data about their web-browsing habits. A few weeks later, Apple was slapped with a lawsuit alleging that it allowed iOS applications to provide advertisers with sensitive user information that's supposed to remain private.
A large number of applications that run on Apple's iOS collect serial numbers that uniquely identify the hardware device, according to a study issued in October that warned that the practice could compromise users' privacy. More recently, tens of thousands of users of smartphones running Android downloaded apps from Google's apps Market that secretly commandeered their handsets.
Both Apple and Google have defended the privacy protections offered by the iOS and Android. If reports about the grand jury investigation are correct, the world may soon have a large body of evidence proving or debunking these claims. ®
Try this yourself
Grab a copy of Fiddler (http://www.fiddler2.com/) and install it. In your iPhone edit your wireless network and add the IP of your Fiddler installation and port 8888. Now all your iPhone's network traffic can be monitored in real time. Start up an app and see what you get.
For example start up Angry Birds. Notice how it sends an http request to http://data.flurry.com/aap.do. Flurry is an analytics company. The request includes the version of Angry Birds, your phone's unique ID (UDID), which levels you've been playing, how many birds you used, which options you tapped on, which promos you've looked at and so on. It includes some encoded data strings which could be capturing anything.
So far that's just a device. Now look at the free Bloomberg app. It also uses Flurry and also sends the same kind of data to the same URL. It includes the phone's UDID, which stocks you looked at, which screen options you tapped on and so on. Lots of apps use Flurry, and that's just one analytics company which happened to stand out in the analysis. I'm not picking on them and they no doubt provide a valuable service. I'm just concerned to know where I fit into it, after all it's my data they're building up.
I've not got an Android phone so if someone wants to try it and report back it would be useful, I expect the same apps send the same data regardless of platform.
If you want to monitor any secure traffic switch on https decryption (Tools / Fiddler Options / HTTPS / Decrypt HTTPS traffic). This makes Fiddler act as a man in the middle proxy, so you will get certificate errors but can see all the data in the tunnel.
One more thing
I forgot about a setting you need in order to enable remote access for the iPhone:
Tools / Fiddler Options / Connections / Allow remote computers to connect
the article forgets to mention the harvesting of contact lists on iPhones by applications like Fring. No prompt, nothing. With other apps you may get prompted, but the warning comes from the application itself if the dev was kind enough to implement it. There's no protection at device/OS level whatsoever.