Why does this free mobile game need to read my text messages?
On Wednesday, April 11, 2018, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg will raise his hand, swear under oath, and testify before a Congressional panel regarding the breadth and scope of his company’s sharing of customer information for profit.
With the latest furor around Facebook and privacy it seems like a good time for Ryan Gallagher, our co-founder and CEO, to speak up on an issue that affects every one of us with tips on how to be a smart consumer in a mobile-centric society.
When Belinda and I started iovox in 2007, we were fascinated by what Google and other companies were doing with web data and how it helped businesses make better decisions. We created iovox with a belief that similar innovations could be brought into the area of phone calls with the goal of helping businesses and individuals make better decisions and be more productive with their data.
There’s the difference.
At iovox, we’ve always believed your data is your data. Who you share it with and how you use it is entirely up to you.
In contrast, I remember a Forbes article from 2013, titled “Google Users – You’re The Product, Not The Customer” where the boundary line about whether you’re a ‘customer’ or the ‘product’ was based on whether you were paying for the service or not.
Privacy is a constant source of discussion and concern for our team. Never has privacy been so freely abused than in the world of mobile apps where even the most innocuous sounding game can legally gain access to all your private data just because you didn’t read the details on the terms and conditions. What do they do with your data? That is almost entirely up to the app creator, but it is very common practice to sell the data to third party marketing firms or use it to better target you with advertising.
Case in point: One of the latest apps I was about to install was a simple card game. The game was free from charges but requested permission to access my contacts, photos, text messages, and more. I had a choice to make. Do I want this free game badly enough that I’m willing to give the creator access to my information? The answer was no. It’s like meeting someone for the first time and they ask for access to all the photos on your phone, and all of your messages to friends and family. Would you allow it? Almost certainly not, then why has it become acceptable to do so in the interest of playing a ‘free’ game on your phone?
And need we mention Facebook and the host of apps that siphon off your data? Even the Guardian app, a reputable UK newspaper, asks for the following permissions:
“By granting permission you will be agreeing to share your Facebook user details (including your name, profile picture, gender, networks, user ID and any other information you choose to share according to your Facebook account settings) as well as the user details of your Facebook friends, and information about your use of the App, for example, the articles you are reading.”
Here’s my advice. Before installing any app, think about how the app creator is making money and what they need permissions for. If you are installing a photo app, of course it will need access to your photos. If you are installing a card game or a news reader, there is no reason these apps need to be seeing your photos, contacts, or text messages with friends and family.
As new residents in the United States, we have to say that the privacy standards in America are much more relaxed than they are in the UK and throughout the European Union. As a company, iovox has lived up to those higher standards for over a decade and we work very hard to safeguard the data generated through our business. In all our years of doing business, we have been a trusted partner for companies all over the world, and have never once sold data, or used data for anything other than its intended purpose. That purpose is telecom analytics for our customers. In fact a few months ago, our CTO, Mark Carbonaro, posted a blog on our security-first approach when it comes to data.
At iovox, we’re in the process of introducing our first ever service that is accessible via mobile app. The app is designed to benefit people that spend a lot of time talking on the phone and are looking for ways to stay organized and productive.
Our new app allows you to add notes to any of your calls, to flag calls for follow up, share the call details with other people or with your CRM system, and access your unlimited call history. For these features we do need permissions. In order to transform your call history into a searchable, editable history of calls, we will ask for the following permissions, and I’m going to explain exactly why we ask for them.
- Identity – This permits us to sync your data to/from our servers for use on the desktop, on other devices and enables call sharing functionality.
- Contacts – This allows us to sync your contacts with the desktop site and to allow you to see who is calling and take notes against that contact.
- Location – This enables you to see on a map where you were when you made or received a call.
- Phone – This enables us to retrieve past calls when you first sign into the app making your existing call history more usable than ever before.
- Photos/Media/Files – This enables you to optionally add a photo to your account.
- Device ID & call information – This enables us to know when a call starts and capture call details allowing you to search, take notes, flag and tag.
So how does iovox make money from this app and its other services? Our mobile app is free, yet we will make money when a customer upgrades in order to get searchable access to more of their call history or to pay for enhanced features like CRM integrations, call recording and transcription. We make no money from selling data.
For our traditional inbound call tracking services, we make money from customers like BritishTelecom, AutoTraderUK, OpenTable and many others when they pay us for telephone numbers, as well as the analytics services that they buy from us each month. We help these customers and many others like them around the world, make decisions about the performance of their business, using their data.
At iovox we’ve always strived to respect our customers and be authentic in our interactions with everyone. There are so many positive benefits to all the technology we have access to today, but as I stated earlier, any time you download an app, ask how they make money, and why they need access to what they are asking for. If it doesn’t make sense, don’t install the application. You wouldn’t give some of this information to your closest friend so why give it to a stranger on the internet?
Be safe out there and thanks for reading.
From outside the US please reach us at one of these numbers:
Ryan Gallagher is co-founder and CEO of iovox.