Smartphone manufacturers secretly trade cheap prices for data collection


In July 2018, researchers at the London-based security and mobile commerce firm Upstream Systems found that millions of cheap smartphones sold in developing countries lacking privacy protections come with pre-installed apps that harvest users' data for the purpose of targeting advertising and that can only be removed with difficulty. One such app, which Singtech includes on the thousands of smartphones it sells in Myanmar and Cambodia, as well as others sold in Brazil or made by Indian and Chinese manufacturers, sends unique device-identifying details and the owner's location to Taiwan's General Mobile Corporation, (GMobi). GMobi says it also shares the data with manufacturers to help them learn more about their customers; the app also enables manufacturers to send out over-the-air firmware updates at no cost. Other companies taking the same approach are Shanghai-based Adup and Indian digital advertising company MoMagic, which appear to take the view that the they comply with the laws where they operate and that the low cost of the phones is a fair trade.

Writer: Newley Purnell

Publication: Wall Street Journal

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