"Private data" on the Internet? Forget about it.
How do you think a "free app" is free? Do you think the app providers are offering a public service to benefit humanity? Nope. Their unholy gambit is to get you hooked on some trivial, little convenient app, then access and sell all your personal information to other greedy marketers who are ready to spam you and all your contacts into oblivion ... all right under our noses. They simply must be stopped.
Whenever you get a prompt that an app on your smartphone wants to "update," what do you think is happening? Chances are, it is not merely seeking your permission to update its app but instead, take more personal information from you for their own nefarious uses. And, their uses are nefarious--they're incredibly sneaky about it. They take your contacts--not just colleagues or associates but your family too (so they can spam them under your name); they take your location and recent locations (so they can sell that info to local advertisers); they take your marital status, children's info, sexual orientation and even religion to feed their own greedy need for revenue.
If you're anything like me, you have a lynch-mob of potentially harmful apps
on your smartphone
And when we give our "permission" to these apps, we are essentially giving them run-of-house through our personal lives. We aren't paying close attention when we are prompted to give these permissions for a laundry list of different data-sets and we just reflexively hit "Yes." Big mistake.
Olivier Amar is the CEO of MyPermissions, an Israeli start-up company designed to thwart these nasty, little buggers and put control back into the hands of the smartphone owner where it truly belongs. With the MyPermisssions app (ironic, that an app defeats all other apps, huh?) users can be informed immediately when a new app is accessing their data; what data it's accessing/been accessing; and protect the average Joe from the illicit intrusion of apps with evil intent.
Amar is an Israeli, born and raised in Tel Aviv, and spent significant time in Montreal. He has an extensive background in tech marketing and was the VP of Marketing for Get Taxi, another Israeli start-up which has received significant funding.
Computer used: Asus Zenbook
Tablet used: Nexus 7
Smartphone used: Android Nexus 4
Favorite apps: Feedly, Instagram, Google Play
Favorite city: Barcelona
Favorite book: "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Favorite movie: "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"
Favorite artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Favorite band: Prince
Favorite music: Funk
Favorite quote: "Do or do not, there is no try."--Yoda, "Star Wars"
Favorite food: Paella
Married, two children
After obtaining the marketing experience so important to a start-up CEO, Amar co-founded MyPermisssions with Avi Charkam, another Israeli but more on the pure technology side than Amar.
Here's Amar's 'aha moment' for starting MyPermissions: In October of 2011, Charkam was told he was "tweeting spam" and of course went to check his Twitter account. He tried changing his password several times to no avail and then it started happening to his Facebook account too. This really stuck in his craw, so with Amar he started giving a lot of thought about how to defeat this common technology and social media frustration.
Apparently, part of the problem was that Charkram had connected to an app through Twitter and then his Twitter account was hacked as a result. Who knew, but an average of 59% of people connect to other apps through Facebook or Twitter.
In January of 2012, Amar did what any tech-savvy marketer seeing a gap in the marketplace and a business opportunity to solve that need would do: he set up a one-page test website which he called "MyPermissions.org" in order to test the market need for such a technology. Amar was looking to see how people responded; how many wanted to check their apps permissions; and most of all, he wanted feedback on his budding idea.
The early permutation of MyPermisssions website before it turned into a full-blown enterprise--very smart was that offer to "guess how many apps have access ... "
Well, wouldn't you know ... there was a huge market need. Apparently, most technologized people had been experiencing the same terribly frustrating situations with their apps that Amar had. The test web site got 150,00 unique visitors in 48 hours.
"We learned several very important things," Amar told me over coffee, "first, people wanted all their permissions in one place for convenience. Second, they wanted to know when a new app was attempting to connect to their data, so they could verify and approve before it happens. And lastly, of course, they wanted it mobile"
Now, we should educate ourselves a bit about the exact nature of the problem Amar and Charkam were trying to solve. What kind of personal data are these aggressive apps accessing unbeknownst to us? The graph below gives us a clear and scary idea.
Most people give easy permission for these freebie apps to access their friends and contacts as well as see their email address. This would seem to be the least the agreeable free user of their app could do but the access to your friends is one of the most important data-sets the apps crave to get their filthy little hands on. Conversely, most people will not allow these apps to download their photos or publish marketing messages for them.
The solution is--where possible--to deny these apps access to any personal info whatsoever. Simultaneously, it is essential that we don't reflexively download and give access to our data to apps that we don't need and won't use regularly--I have tons of them and plan on doing some serious housecleaning to rid myself of these data leeches. We seem to live in a world where none of us is aware that just willy-nilly downloading of apps we don't use or need is a very bad thing. I repeat, get rid of all of those apps you don't use and which are spreading your preferences all over creation on the Net.
So Amar and Charkram created a service which allows their users to check their permissions; have all their permissions in one, convenient place; and allow for the user to know when a new app was connecting and control its access to their personal, private data. Their service contacts and informs users when the apps are scrounging around. MyPermissions was born.
Now offering a cross-browser extension, iOS and Android versions for desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones, MyPermissions has over 500,000 users across 99% of the world's countries with some concentration in the US. "There's no question that over the last six months," Amar told me, "more of our development has been for Mobile."
And Amar doesn't have the same growth strategy as every other tech CEO; no he doesn't. "I don't believe in 'monetizing' the consumer," Amar shared, "I don't believe you can grow a big business by charging 99 cents per download--you need tens or hundreds of millions of downloads for that. People have become much more sensitive to the privacy of their data. You know it's the 'Summer of Snowden,' PRISM, NSA, the Google/Facebook lawsuits and all this publicity around data privacy has really helped our business tremendously."
My experience testing MyPermissions began with taking a look at my Facebook account. I was relieved to see that only Flipboard was accessing my personal data and presumably this is because I almost never connect to apps through Facebook and Twitter as the 59% of people do. Worrisomely however, Flipboard was accessing my contacts and posting on my Facebook news-feed. I took care of that promptly by eliminating Flipboard's access on MyPermissions. Twitter was a different story. There were six apps accessing my data, of which only one, LinkedIn, did I want to have that access. MyPermissions allowed me to quickly and conveniently scan and clean-up Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Instagram, Flickr, Dropbox and many other accounts which I had never considered security threats to my personal data. It will now constantly monitor these apps and any others that try to sneak into my data vault.
I was livid that this kind of data thievery was going on with my personal info. "See how angry you get?" Amar told me when I saw how many sneak-thieves were embedded in my apps. "Facebook alone has 72 different permissions, so you can get a sense of all the opportunities for privacy abuse." Truly, these apps are violating us like a home invasion every 20 minutes.
What lies ahead for MyPermissions? Amar says he anticipates raising a Series A round of capital for the growing start-up in early 2014, probably from American investors. "I want us to be the authority on permissions," Amar concluded strongly.
MyPermissions has a great set of FAQ questions here, where they answer such amusing questions as "How do we know we can trust YOU, eh?" Since their business is dealing with tricky, evil apps, they seem to have a contrarian business philosophy: "Don't be sneaky and provide your customers with something that protects them and their personal privacy." I think they got it right.