Some popular iPhone apps silently record your screen, report claims

Alfred Osborne
February 9, 2019

A day after TechCrunch's report, Apple cracked down on the said apps.

Android users aren't safe either; previous year Gizmodo reported that some Android apps were also recording user's interactions with their apps. None of these apps need user permission to record users' screens.

According to TechCrunch, several popular iOS apps use Glassbox, an analytics company, to deploy session replaying into their apps.

As if it wasn't already creepy enough that these apps have the ability to spy on your phone use, in some instances, such as when you use the Air Canada app, your personal information is at risk of being breached. But, after you leave the app, it can't see anything you do on your home screen or anything you type into another app. Apple's iOS operating system would prevent apps from recording your screen all the time, even if they wanted to.

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.

TechCrunch claims it found several apps from hotels, travel websites, airlines, banks, and others that didn't clarify if they were collecting such data and what they were going to do with it.

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However, they often fail to ask for user permission and don't denote the shady activity in their privacy policies.

TL;DR iPhone apps have been secretly "screen recording" user information such as passport numbers and credit card details. "Apps must request explicit user consent and provide a clear visual indication when recording, logging, or otherwise making a record of user activity", Apple said in an email to TechCrunch.

Specifically, Apple has reportedly told app developers who've violated its guidelines to update their apps to either remove the tool or get user consent. As a result, Google and Apple have been actively removing tens and hundreds of apps from their respective app stores to keep its hundreds and thousands of users safe.

For some apps, including travel sites, sensitive customer information isn't being transferred securely.

To put the theory to the test, TechCrunch worked with The App Analyst to evaluate apps that used the Glassbox technology. However, TechCrunch found that not all apps that are using Glassbox's tech are masking data fields properly, leaving sensitive information exposed in the screen recordings. Is there a difference between gathering data from users if this data is used to improve apps versus collecting information about users? Add the fact that the use of Glassbox analytics doesn't require any permission from the user or Apple, and you've got a ideal storm of pseudo-iPhone user snooping.

Glassbox says all the data is secured and encrypted and nothing is shared with third parties.

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