How to avoid the app trap: Path, iOS and protecting your sources
February 19, 2012
Amid a flurry of privacy breaches and proposed spy laws, has storing your contact book in a digital format simply become untenable if you have sources you desperatly need to protect?
This question has been on my mind repeatedly over the last two weeks, following news about new spy laws and how various apps steal all the contacts you have stored on your smartphone.
For my part, I wasn't too surprised about the "revelations" about apps such as Path stealing your contact book. Testing new apps has been a regular part of my job for the last year and half, and I always check what access demands they make (and they tend to be extensive).
As a result, I've found myself using my old-school contact book more and more in that period. It's pretty standard for an app to ask or demand access to the contacts stored in your phone and in various apps you have on your phone (Gmail, Twitter, Facebook etc), your location etc so journalists need to think through what apps they use, what contacts they store in their smartphones or both very carefully.
I'm reminded of Charles Arthur's excellent article "They've got your number" from a few years back, which admittedly looked at how new legislation might affect journalists' ability to protect their sources - but the challenges are many of the same as with the new app trap.
I've written more extensively on this topic in Norwegian following the Path-revelation here, but here's a collection of recent links I've come across since writing that post:
- Dave Winer: A reporter's address book
- ReadWriteWeb: Why did you upload iOS contacts without consent?
- BBC College of Journalism: Be paranoid - protecting sources in the digital age
- The Telegraph: Phone and email records to be stored in new spy plan
I must admit I feel a kind of cynical resignation over all this, what's your take?