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This Week in Tech News: Permission Not Required

Android Averts Privacy Permissions

Android Averts Privacy Permissions

A slanted view of the Android Battery Life application permissions.

Researchers from the International Computer Science Institute presented a report in late June at the US’s Federal Trade Commission’s 2019 PrivacyCon workshop that might make you want to put down your phone for good.

Application permissions on smartphones are meant to give users some control over the mining and using of their personal data from their devices. The study conducted by the ICSI researchers found that over 1,000 Android apps have been evading privacy permissions, allowing them to collect personal data from users even after the user has denied the app access. The apps are able to do this in obscure ways, such as gathering data from Wi-Fi connections and metadata stored in photos, according to CNET. Some of the applications that are gathering data include popular smartphone game Angry Birds, antivirus and optimisation service Clean Master, and Audible’s Audiobooks app.

The ICSI research team concluded that the number of potential users impacted by these apps circumventing the Android permissions system is as many as hundreds of millions of people, and expect that these actions violate several laws. The research team did notify Google of their findings, which the tech giant plans to address in their next Android Q release.

Data Deletion – Denied

US Senator Chris Coons has made recent headlines as a result of a letter he sent to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos regarding the data collected by Amazon’s Alexa. Coons wanted answers on what Amazon does with its voice assistant recordings and if users can delete them if they choose. Amazon’s response, written by the company’s VP of public policy Brian Huseman, revealed that while Amazon gives customers the option to review and delete the recordings from their Echo device, Amazon still holds some recordings and transcripts indefinitely for machine learning purposes, in order to improve the product.

An Amazon Echo device lit up signalling Alexa listening.

According to CNET, recordings gathered by Alexa can only be deleted manually by users, by going into the Privacy tab in the device settings and manually deleting the user’s voice recordings. When a customer deletes their voice recordings and the transcripts of these recordings, Amazon deletes them as well. Huseman revealed that transcripts of some interactions are still saved on Amazon’s servers even after the recordings are deleted. Examples of personal data that's kept by Amazon include Alexa requests that involve a purchase or transaction, calendar reminders and alarms. Huseman stated that customers would not want their voice recordings to be deleted as this would prevent Alexa from performing their requests. In comparison, Google removes both the audio and text entries gathered from its voice assistant when a person deletes that data. Apple never associates recordings gathered by Siri with a specific person or an account, as the data is tied to a random identifier that can be deleted.

Coons was not pleased with Huseman’s response, and was quoted as saying that it is still unclear what personal data Amazon keeps on its servers through Alexa’s voice assistance, even after users delete recordings manually, as well as what Amazon does with this data in terms of sharing it with third parties.

Google Facilitates Coding in Schools

There is a steady decline in the availability of subjects like computer science, coding and ICT in schools today, particularly in marginalised areas. This gap in digital skills in the current technological market is one that cannot be ignored – and Google is doing its part to help.

Three children excited about working on a school laptop.

In a recent blog post, Google’s VP of Education and University Relations Maggie Johnson announced Code with Google, the company’s newest computer science resource for teachers. Code with Google provides free curriculum along with step-by-step videos which don’t require teachers to be skilled coders in order to hold lessons. It aims to solve a common issue in today’s classrooms; students have an interest in learning these skills, but teachers don’t have the proper toolsto teach them.

According to a Google report about U.S. education barriers in computer science, students, parents and teachers all place computer science education high on the list of important subjects but superintendents and principals tend to disagree. Johnson states, “Code with Google is the next step in our ongoing commitment to closing equity gaps in computer science education.” Techcrunch reports that in addition to Code with Google, providing access to scholarships, internships and summer programs, the company has also awarded a $1 million USD grant to the Computer Science Teachers Association.

If you enjoyed this post, check out more of our This Week in Tech News articles:

Featured image credit: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Body image credits:

Photo by Christiaan Colen on Flickr

Photo by Andres Urena on Unsplash

Photo by Lucélia Ribeiro [CC BY-SA 2.0]

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