Mobile Security and Privacy


By Hayley Gibson

Written February 27, 2017 for NMed 3850 – Mobile Application Development

The meaning of privacy has changed exponentially with the digital revolution and the innovation of technology, the internet, and introduction of portable mobile devices. Privacy has become “less about solitude and more [about] the right to control our identity and our information”[1] in correlation with our personal choices. The WNYC Studio produced podcast ‘Note to Self’ introduced the concept of “The Privacy Paradox” which refers to the contradictory behavior that we exhibit as we continuously give confidential information away with the click of a button even though we feel more and more uneasy about it. Convenience overrides the implications of privacy violation in our society. Getting that ‘like’ on social media, or being able to make waiting time less stressful by playing a silly new game is oddly satisfying for us in our society even if it means skimming the Terms & Conditions page to do so. The impulse that we have for immediate gratification tends to overshadow the ethical code of our own free will for privacy. The agreement clauses that pop up before every mobile application will download are very rarely read through. How many times have you rapidly scrolled and scrolled just to get to the bottom so you can hit ‘Agree’ and start the download already? The majority of people do just that, myself included. And while some feel slightly guilty or just indifferent about it, we never really try very hard to care too much about how much of our information we have just given away. Are free apps a trade-off for the violation of our ethical codes? The podcast discusses the notion that this “erosion of our privacy has become normal”[2] to us and our own personal information has been taken for granted.

Some of the most integral aspects of our lives, including financial details and public infrastructure, are at the forefront of this struggle for privacy and proper cyber security. So much of the tasks we perform daily, whether it is paying bills, shopping for merchandise, or conducting business, is readily accessibility through mobile applications. It is so easy to take your phone out of your pocket and quickly swipe to get something done rather than travel, socialize, or have to fully stop whatever it is you are currently doing. We are constantly multitasking between digital devices, which are all seamlessly integrated with each other over a network of connections. The technicality of digital connection and accessibility grants a ridiculous amount of freedom for large corporations to have full access to sensitive information. The devices that we carry with us throughout our daily activities are constantly transmitting a stream of data, personal information, preferences and settings to third parties. Every single item that we share, every message that we text, and every touch that is made on our screens represents a tiny breadcrumb of digital code that can be used to create a larger images of our selves.

Google is a great example of what Shoashana Zuboff coins as “Surveillance Capitalism”, as they piece together and analyze digital breadcrumbs that no one really cares about to predict user behavior online. Ever get slightly creeped out or maybe super impressed at those side ads that seem extremely customized for you, after you have made a prior purchase, search, or post? Ever wonder how a retail site remembers than you left an item in your shopping cart two weeks ago? It is the system using these miniscule amounts of data and cookies that go unnoticed to predict your future movements in a big way. The connectivity of a company such as Google, which dabbles in search engines, email, maps, and social media, is an increasingly dangerous thing. There is information that is collected over a lifespan of some users. There are many application add-ons, particularly through Facebook that ask for permission to post on your behalf, but even when they are asked not to, sometimes post appear without your knowledge or consent (ie: those horoscopes, favorite character matches and random quizzes). It’s humorous that we don’t questions these subtle types of events more often. Why would a mindless horoscope quiz want to post anything on my behalf, and why are they asking for my permission? The better question is why have we been conditioned to think that stuff like this doesn’t mean anything or have implications? Because it really does.

Every click that is made online and on mobile devices is reported back to a variety of parties including cellular providers, wi-fi providers, O/S vendors, as well as application developers.[3] Mobile devices are built with layers of overlapping technology that can be used to identify and track user movements and patterns. They store information as they wirelessly connect to a variety of networks to facilitate users, track operations, and submit targeted marketing data for better performance. This is potentially risky because of the threat that viruses and negligent security poses to such private information. Ever wonder why Facebook is free, and ‘always will be’? Many people feel that their own lives are part of a gigantic experiment to collect data, place human emotions on a spectrum of coding and clicks, and to dissect how we live our lives through this digital landscape. The repercussions can be big or small: fraud, theft, criminal activities, and so forth.

Personally I have never had the misfortune of having private information stolen, at least not that I know of, but I see the digital footprints that I leave on a daily basis. I recognize that I am more alert on public systems regarding passwords and logging into different accounts because of the easy access for prying eyes. But I am mostly in awe of the capability of our technology, and arguably am indifferent to the privacy risks because I have not suffered a major hack as mentioned above. I monotonously comply and agree to terms and conditions, oblivious to whatever they may say, but acknowledge that many of 3

us need to gain a greater understanding and awareness of what sort of information we are so freely throwing around the internet. The innovations are happening so fast in this digital world that it is hard to keep up with the latest trends, especially when it comes to security because the firewalls and programs built to protect us crumble down so easy now. In this society mobile devices are something that we can no longer live without. If it takes a little bit of information about my life here and there, I am happy to give it, all things considered. The notion that ‘once it’s on the internet, it’s on there forever’ doesn’t really frighten me as much as it makes me fear for future generations who will literally grow up on a phone. I appreciate the level of control that we possess now, but recognize that as the digital revolution rages on, we might need to take a stand for protecting the life that is contained in a 4-inch display.

In summary, mobile privacy is less about hiding ourselves and more about controlling what elements of ourselves that others will see. We are conditioned to share much of our information across multiple platforms, as we do so willingly for the ease of access, connectivity, and simplicity of it all. Even as we start to question the repercussions of such valuable data, we as a society also understand that giving it away is now an inevitable part of daily life. We can’t live without technology anymore, especially our mobile phones, and we have created this interwoven web to better serve our needs.


[1], [2] Alessandro Acquisiti & Shoshana Zuboff, podcast hosted by Manoush Zomorodi, Note to Self – Introducing: The Privacy Paradox, WNYC Studios, January 30, 2017. Retrieved from:

[3] The Citizen Lab, “The Many Identifiers in Our Pockets: A primer on mobile privacy and security”, University of Toronto Research Brief (May 21, 2015): 207. Retrieved from:


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