Privacy app ‘Disconnect’ returns to Play and App Stores

Privacy app Disconnect returns to Play Store after ban by Google.

It is a funny fact, that privacy and security on mobiles leave such a lot to be desired. There isn’t any way to block intrusive ads, enable an IP firewall or control usage of personal data (and potentially stop it) other than agreeing on installation – and whatever happens after is hidden from the user. Maybe there are some things, that a user simplky doesn’t want to allow all of the times, but in general?

For example the location data on Windows Mobile is a contant stream to Microsoft, incurred by all kinds of applications. Maybe there are moments, when you really want to interrupt this particular stream of data without having to uninstall all the applications that do transmit it?

What about a smartphone-based junk-mail filter? The mobile is one strong attack vector for any kind of intrusive, abusive, and overly curious party. We constantly increase use of mobile against desktop applications. Yet, the protection everybody automatically implements on any Windows computer doesn’t even exist for a WP devioce, leave alone Apple or Android.

At least for intrusive ad-services, “Disconnect” offered some basic black-/whitelisting functionalities on Android and iOS. It promptly got kicked from Google Play, only now has it been reactivated and allowed. A small step, but maybe some more valid ones will follow.

“There is no reason why you shouldn’t have the same degree of control over the computer you have in your pocket as you do over your computer on your desktop,”

Casey Oppenheim, co-founder of Disconnect Mobile, says.

“When we were kicked out, virtually every other ad blocker was kicked out as well”

said Ben Williams, a spokesman for Eyeo, maker of Adblock Plus, which was removed from the Play store in March 2013.

On iOS, a jailbreak is required to install Firewall IP, a tool that is able to

  • Block outgoing TCP & UDP connections selectively
  • port specific blocking
  • Shows you the hostname for the connection & can provide you with WhoIs information
  • Can block connections of apps when you are on a cellular network (save data!)
  • Block analytic providers / data collectors which PrivaCy can’t
  • Block unneeded content (ads 😉
  • Easily use interface & control the app

 

So, the ability is there, but iDevice users have to take jailbreak risks to avoid to be tracked by companies like Pinch Media, Flurry, Medialets, and Mobclix, just to name some. While these allow for app-developers to monetize their apps, from a privacy perspective, it seems to be only fair to be able to gauge the way and extent to which such companies intrude into the privacy of users.

Not using apps is not a free choice anymore nowadays, it is the choice to participate in society or not. And since privacy laws still suffer from severe shortcomings in being depolyed, the whole risk lies on the shoulder of the user, which in many cases means they either do not care enough or unable to cope (being illiterate with respect to the topic).

As the only option is an opt-in when installing the apps, the users need a choice of opting out at least. Disconnect Mobile is at least a good shot into the right direction, but at some point in time, the paying customers should be able to claw back on their data. What has been given up to the industry until then, remains to be seen.

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