Clueful, the mobile privacy app Apple booted from its App Store for being too revealing — or possibly because of its own behavior – is staging a comeback. This time around, Clueful’s maker Bitdefender is targeting Android users instead, with plans to reveal what the apps on your phone are doing, and how your privacy may be compromised in the process.
Bitdefender, a company that makes a variety of anti-virus, anti-theft, and other security applications for web and mobile, first launched Clueful a year ago as a $4 iOS app that detailed how the apps on users’ phones handle – or mishandle, as the case may be – personal data. The app launched in the wake of a number of high-profile security events, like address book-gate and locationgate, for example. (And you know they’re bad when there’s a “gate” attached, right?)
For “unknown reasons,” Apple removed Clueful from its App Store shortly after its debut. The company spins this as “we revealed too much!” of course, but the more informed answer points to the fact that, to work, the app itself had to pull a list of apps from a user’s device, send them to Clueful’s servers and then cross-reference those with the apps it had in its database. Apple might not have cared for this process, especially considering the end result may have discouraged app downloads. Clueful later returned in a watered down web version.
Apple mobile device users, of course, don’t have much to fear in terms of malware because of how Apple tests and approves apps ahead of making them publicly accessible in its iTunes App Store. However, Clueful still plays on the sometimes misguided fears some have, who believe that software makers are always purposely and maliciously trying to track your location, acquire your personal or financial data, spam you or your friends with unwanted messages or emails, and more.
Often, apps accused of doing some or all of these things are more the result of a rush to launch or shoddy coding, more so than malicious intent. And sometimes, they’re just early stage startups, making mistakes. Then there’s the fact that some apps are designed to work with this “sensitive” data in ways that help you – an app that wants to help you find nearby events or set geo-fenced reminders, for instance, needs to know where you are.
Yes, there are malicious, virus-laden apps as well as those over-reaching in terms of what they need to function, but many operate in a gray area. So to the uninformed, being told that some app is “tracking you” can perhaps cause concern when little to none is warranted.
To Bitdefender’s credit then, at least the Android version of the application now ranks applications as low, medium or high risk, based on their “danger levels.” And you can also filter to just see those with “intrusive ads” that “send unencrypted data,” or “are viruses,” for example, which could be useful if you’re not prone to being careful with your installs or are worried you have a problem app on your hands.
On Android, Clueful is available for free, with an option to upgrade for added security, including a real-time web scanner, on-install and on-demand app scanner, and more. This is provided by the company’s anti-virus app, which costs $9.95 per year. That undercuts competitor Lookout’s Premium option, but it also lacks Lookout’s more comprehensive feature set which also includes remote wipe, lock, signal flare, locating lost phones, backup and restore, cross-platform support, and more. (Some of these options are available through Bitdefender’s other freemium apps, but not all.)
Clueful may find better footing on Android, though, where users do have to be more cautious because apps are not vetted ahead of launch. Plus, a good chunk of Android’s user base are those upgrading from feature phones to a low-cost smartphone, and are still technically unsophisticated when it comes to sorting the good apps from the bad.
The new version of Clueful is available here in Google Play.
Editor’s note: Howard Lindzon is co-founder and CEO of StockTwits, a social network for traders and investors to share real-time ideas and information. You can read his full bio here and find him on Twitter @howardlindzon.
The markets are not changing so much as the technology that makes markets move. The technology has enabled machines to ping each other at speeds that give them an edge over humans (at least in the very short-term) and people are connected to other machines and people in ways that can’t be quantified. The social web and the leverage from these connections have the media confused, and it seems angry, if not completely wrong.
The New York Times $NYT and the rest of the financial media continue to butcher story after story about the social web (media) and financial markets. This week it was this stupid, stupid headline and first sentence:
Twitter Speaks, Markets Listen and Fears Rise
Could the global economy hinge on 140 characters?
The writers of the article have ignored reality, facts and the state of the markets. It is the people who are speaking, and it is Twitter providing the fantastic black canvas of the time. The global economy does not hinge on any one person or event, let alone 140 characters.
The reality is that information is not behind the walls all neat and tidy like Bloomberg, public companies and the wires would like it to be. People who want to be tapped in now follow the right people on Twitter and obviously other networks like Stocktwits that offer communication, context and community. The markets in the real short-term do a real horrific job of listening. They are too big. They react.
The $VIX (one widely accepted measure of market volatility) has been in a steady decline since the social web began its boom in 2009. Here is a chart:
VIX data by YCharts
It makes sense. Everyone is connected, not just the people “in the know.” Of course with everyone holding hands in this new world, the reactions like the AP hacking will be more volatile and the recoveries that we saw after just as fast.
The hackers know this. Hackers are impossible to stop. You just force them to step up their game as the technology improves. Mark Cuban had this to say about the change in markets from technology:
“There’s just no new names, no new energy, no new opportunities, and that’s a problem,” said Mark Cuban, an avid trader, entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks. “That’s a reflection of the lack of trust, the fact that we don’t know what business the markets are in, and there’s so much algorithmic trading and technology-driven trading it’s created downstream problems.”
More rules are not going to help. Better enforcement of the existing rules and punishing the thieves that break them is the solution.
We are still paying for awful regulations that were a reaction to past hacks on the financial system from the likes of Enron (which led to Sarbanes-Oxley Act) and the investment banks and mortgage panic (Frank Dodd).
If we let guys like Bart Chilton get his way around this type of shoddy headline writing, the walls will get higher around the financial world, not lower, and we will go backwards.
Despite developers grumbling that they would ditch Parse’s mobile app backend service now that it’s been bought by Facebook, Parse CEO Ilya Suhkar tells me signups spiked 9.4x and fewer clients are leaving than before. Meanwhile, to calm fears about Facebook spying on Parse developer data, the company issued the statement “We currently have no plans to make any changes to how Parse app data is used.”
The acquisition marks Facebook’s entry into the paid B2B app development services business. However, the acquisition came as a bit of a shock to loyal developers who built over 60,000 apps on Parse’s mobile backend as a service (MBaaS). Complaints I’ve seen centered around Facebook degrading the Parse service, pushing its own social integrations and ad platform too hard, questions about who owns app data hosted on Parse due to language in Facebook’s terms of service, privacy of that app data, and worries about how Facebook might use access to that data for its own benefit.
Many developers claimed they would be moving to other MBaaS platforms. And one competitor, StackMob, built a special importer tool that Parse developers can use to export their app records and import them into these other services. These developers seem to be barking louder than they’re biting, though. Sukhar tells me, “The difference isn’t even statistically significant but, in absolute terms, the number of records exported per day since acquisition announcement is lower than before. Nobody’s using this tool and there is no overall exodus.”
I asked Facebook about the concerns above, and after talking for a while I came away more confident that much of the paranoia about the acquisition is unfounded.
Facebook understands that developers are finicky. The social network already has a spotty record in terms of platform stability. In the past, changes have come hard and fast without enough warning, sometimes causing apps to break. Other times, Facebook’s design or feed changes can crater the traction of apps built on it. Over the last year or so, Facebook has made a serious effort to become more developer-friendly, and are determined not to screw up Parse.
As far as ownership and privacy of data on the Parse platform, some developers may be confusing language in Facebook’s user-facing terms of service, aka the Statement Of Rights And Responsibilities, with its developer-facing Platform Policy. Facebook maintains that it can employ user data to improve its product or target ads, but doesn’t use third-party app data the same way. It seems Facebook’s intention is to run Parse similarly to how it works with apps on its canvas app platform. Essentially, it won’t be prying into private data or using it to inspire its own product development.
Of course Facebook’s “currently have no plans” statement could change in the future. And despite all its mission statements and talk, it’s still a business. But I think Parse can be a powerful tool for Facebook, and even its answer to iOS and Android in some ways, without doing anything too shady. Parse will create a distribution vector for Facebook’s identity and sharing integrations as well as a way to sell ads, but that can be accomplished without being too interruptive to the Parse experience. Scrutiny will be high, though, so Facebook needs to hold true to its word if it wants Parse’s valuable client base to stick around.
Some developers got very angry and threatened to leave mobile app backend platform Parse when it was bought by Facebook yesterday. Hoping to capitalize, competitor StackMob has since released a Parse migration tool that makes it easy for devs to import their Parse apps. It’s a cutthroat game, this game of tech.
When the Parse acquisition was announced, disgruntled developers flocked to Twitter, Hacker News, and our comments reel. Facebook pledged not to screw up the beloved development platform. While it won’t operate independently like Instagram, Facebook’s hands-off approach to the photo sharing app it bought a year ago should instill some confidence. Facebook’s director of product management Doug Purdy said in his statement about the acquisition that “We’ve worked closely with the Parse team and have seen first-hand how important their solutions and platform are to developers. We don’t intend to change this.” On the phone with me he reiterated that Facebook doesn’t intend to mess with a good thing.
Still, developers’ complaints I read centered on two fears: 1. That Facebook would degrade the Parse service, potentially by promoting its own social integrations and app install ads too hard, and 2. That Facebook would spy on data coming into Parse, including what types of content people chose not to post to the social network.
Wasting little time, StackMob launched an auto-importer for developers looking to move their apps elsewhere and published a blog post touting its advantages over Parse. StackMob CEO Ty Amell tells me the company had already been tinkering with a Parse importer, but when the acquisition was announced, it finished it up and made it accessible yesterday alongside a step-by-step guide. Then today the company began offering a Python script that turns the multi-step process into a single step.
Amell explained to me, “Over the last few months we’ve seen an increase in people coming over from Parse. Once we heard they’d been acquired, we knew there was going to be a lot of backlash and uncertainty from mobile developers. Facebook has a history of monetizing other people’s users, and charging through ads and other ways to access users. Parse not being independent any more is a pretty large concern for developers.”
He says developers had two main questions about the acquisition. 1. Do developers still own their data? 2. What rights to privacy do developers have, and how will Facebook use their data? Amell says “Facebook has some pretty aggressive terms of service. ” However, most of those terms refer to user data, not developer app data, so Amell may be confused.
Overall I think he’s blowing the issue out of proportion for his company’s gain. Developers are right to have questions about what will happen now that Parse is a division of Facebook, but that doesn’t mean they need to migrate away from the platform immediately. Facebook may eventually need to add new terms to its legal documents to cover its new paid B2B services arm, though, which could clarify exactly what will happen with Parse data.