With each passing day, it’s increasingly clear that we can’t rely on the “ethics” and “value systems” of corporations to judge their own messaging around consent
Imagine this: an enormous tech company is tracking what you do on your phone, even when you’re not using any of its services, down to the specific images that you see. It’s also tracking all of your network traffic, because you’re installing one of its specially-designed routers. And even though some of that traffic is encrypted, it can still know what websites you visit, due to how DNS resolution works. Oh, it’s also recording audio from a custom-microphone that’s placed near your TV, and analyzing what it hears.
It’s an always-on panopticon. In exchange for your privacy (and the privacy of any guests who may be using your Internet connection, or talking near your television), you receive a gift card for a whopping $20.
No, we’re not talking about Facebook—we’ve already detailed the frightening consequences of Facebook’s sneaky, privacy-invading and security-breaking “user research” program. This is Google’s “ScreenWise Meter,” another “research program” that, much like Facebook’s, caused an upheaval this week when it was exposed.
In order to spy on iOS users, Facebook took advantage of Apple’s enterprise application program to get around Apple’s strict app distribution rules. When news of this Facebook program hit earlier this week, Google scrambled to pull the plug on its own “user research” application, which was taking advantage of the same Apple program. Apple quickly revoked both organizations’ Enterprise Certificates, shutting down all of Facebook’s and Google’s internal iOS applications and tooling, leaving the two giants in disarray.
We’re not a fan of Apple’s walled-garden approach to application distribution and its strict control over who gets to play on its platform and who doesn’t. However, this drama shined a valuable spotlight on deceptive messages to users and data harvesting practices surrounding two so-called “opt-in” “research” panopticons.
Although Google pulled its iOS application, all the other parts of its Screenwise Meter surveillance program are still in operation—and in some cases, they collect even more data about their “research users” than the Facebook counterpart did.