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Google silent on privacy risks for Android users

Winnie Chong

Thursday, November 22, 2012

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Google has yet to respond to a request to make their Android operating system more risk-proof with regard to data theft.

Privacy Commissioner Allan Chiang Yam-wang said he asked Google a month ago to allow Android-based smartphone and tablet users to choose the personal data revealed to application suppliers during downloads.

But a response from the tech giant has yet to arrive.

Chiang noted that rival US multinational Apple already gives app users this choice on its iOS6 platform.

But he admitted he is powerless over the situation and said Android users can at best refuse to download apps if they disagree with terms and conditions.

When smartphone or tablet users download apps, including games, some sites may ask if they agree to let the developers relay information such as current location.

Chiang said over-access to information is not necessary.

"The potential risk of smartphones can be huge," he said. "Lack of privacy awareness leading to unintended disclosure of personal data means somebody else, strangers in some cases, will be getting data of your very private life."

A Baptist University survey commissioned by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data found that 93.6percent of 838 users of the Android or Apple iOS operating system have installed apps.

Of these, just over a quarter, or 27 percent, said they read the privacy policy before installing apps, while as many as 57percent admitted they did not know that personal data on their phones would be disclosed to program suppliers.

Also, more than half the users of social apps - including Facebook, WhatsApp and LinkedIn - did not know that their contacts and social relationship data could be uploaded to a central server.

Chiang also voiced concern that only about 53percent installed anti-virus software or a screen lock and urged users to delete apps if they do not need them.

The information technology adviser to the office, Henry Chang Chung-yee, urged smartphone users to enable automatic screen lock and install anti-theft software, so that: "Even if the phone is lost, people just lose the phone and not the priceless information stored in it."

In the first nine months of the year, the office received 14 complaints related to smartphones. Anyone breaching the personal data ordinance faces a fine of up to HK$50,000 and two years in jail if convicted.


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