By Annrita Wangui Gituthu
Published September 16, 2014
The Smartphone is the in-thing in communication in Kenya where handset-manufacturers are working with tech companies and mobile phone service providers to ensure every consumer possesses and uses a Smartphone.
But as our fingers and ears itch for a gizmo that not only accesses the internet but also has interactive websites and applications (apps), fear is now creeping down our spines that those who want us to have this gadgetry are to no good; we are sacrificing our privacy for the so-called state-of-the-art phones. Should we be concerned about possible spying from authorities, service providers, handset manufacturers and app developers who can easily keep a tab on our activities around the clock?
Have you ever considered how much personal information is stored in your phone? How often do you clear your text box or call log? Do you state your names, cell number and residential area in any social media site or app? Someone may be watching you and following your every move.
Revelations by Edward Snowden, a United States of America’s National Security Intelligence Agency (NSA) worker that his employer was spying on internet users around the world with the cooperation of tech companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft made headlines around the world in 2013.
According to media reports, apps on popular Smartphones are being used secretly to collect personal data from their users. According to those reports, NSA and Britain’s Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) use mapping, gaming and social networking apps to collect data from unsuspecting users.
In Kenya, like all over Africa, phone users have been forced to register their Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) chip cards and this, coupled with the Smartphone’s surveillance ability, could make it easy for anyone who knows how to stalk or spy on anyone.
The National Intelligence Service of Kenya could have complete access to our mobile phone messages and emails if a bill proposing the removal of a requirement for court warrants before accessing any citizens’ private messages had been approved on August 7, 2014.
South Africa’s Regulation of Interception of Communication-related information Act enables the government to monitor the communication—calls, emails, web sessions—of citizens.
Governments claim spying on citizens is done in the interest of ‘national security’; that surveillance, in the age of international terrorism, saves lives. Hence they may employ any method to achieve their goal, including spying on citizens with Smartphones.
And why do developers of apps have to spy on users? What about tech companies, telephone service providers and manufacturers of handsets; what would be at stake to justify illegal surveillance on people?
Apart from governments and tech companies, criminals are other groups that spy on people via Smartphones. They could then use the data they collect for impersonation, identity theft and in many other illegal ways.
Researchers, marketers and advertisers may also use spying to obtain information on consumer preferences that would give them an edge over their competitors.
Among the apps used by snoopers or stalkers on Smartphones include SpectorSoft’s eBlaster, SpyToMobile, Stealthgenie, WebWatcher and Mspy.
So should we resigned to be spied on or is there anything we can do to protect ourselves from snooping Smartphones?
Clearing our phone history often will help protect our phone from snoopers. We should also ensure that our remote location and wiping has been disabled besides installing apps from trusted developers. Downloadng and installing trusted privacy apps such as redphone calls, textsecure messaging, online privacy shield, and Xprivacy may also help protect us against stalkers.