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Sneaky iPhone apps are recording users' screens without permission

09 February, 2019, 06:57 | Author: Tara Roberts
  • The home screen on the iPhone XS

These apps have been found to literally record your iPhone screen, without asking for your permission or notifying you about it.

The initial report highlighted third-party analytics code used by Air Canada, Expedia, Hotels.com, Hollister and other companies in their mobile apps that allows them to record the screens of users while they navigate the app.

'Our App Store Review Guidelines require that apps request explicit user consent and provide a clear visual indication when recording, logging or otherwise making a record of user activity.

Some of the apps such as Stream Labs, a broadcasting service, already have an elaborate process to start screen recording that'll allow users to stream content. Apps like these might therefore only have to make slight modifications to comply.

Popular iOS apps such as Air Canada and Expedia were found to be recording user actions via Glassbox analytics.

Apple has investigated claims that some iOS apps secretly record your screen as you use them, telling developers that use such code that they could be removed from the App Store.

Many companies have been reported to "digitally stalk" users, without their permission, collecting data and in some cases monetizing it. They could also use this data in aggregate to see how people are using the app and which features they're using. However, session replays were also found, by TechCrunch, to occasionally reveal sensitive data, such as unencrypted credit card numbers, to employees of Air Canada.

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Not every app was leaking masked data and companies like Expedia and Hotels.com were capturing the data but sending it back to a server on their own domain.

Corporate giants could be recording every move and tap of mobile phone users, while they surf through their iPhone apps.

Glassbox says that it provides technology, among many other reasons, to help reduce the error rates of apps.

To put the theory to the test, TechCrunch worked with The App Analyst to evaluate apps that used the Glassbox technology. These apps are associated with a number of specific large companies who have been using a service called Glassbox.

To be clear, session replays and other similar technologies, which are available from a host of companies in addition to Glassbox, are not illegal or necessarily a bad thing. In Air Canada's case, the TechCrunch investigation did not find any mention in its privacy policy that suggests the app sends screen data back to the airline. This information helps companies better understand how consumers are using their services, and where and why they are struggling.

Air Canada responded to TechCrunch with a statement saying, "Air Canada uses customer provided information to ensure we can support their travel needs and to ensure we can resolve any issues that may affect their trips". The companies, including Glassbox, vow that their recordings are encrypted and mask sensitive data automatically, including keyboard presses.

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