Mobile applications – including games and those used for navigation – have been targets of personal data collection by National Security Agency.
including location, age and sexual orientation and other information has been harvested without the user’s knowledge or consent since at least 2007, according to The New York Times, and through the many revelations leaked by infamous CIA civilian contractor Edward Snowden.
The Blackboard Learn mobile application, used by Central Michigan students and professors, was not victim to unwarranted information gathering and has never turned over data to federal agencies, said John Magee, a communications associate at Blackboard.
“We take security very seriously and have a host of protections and measures in place,” Magee said. “In fact, our platform security has been greatly enhanced over the past few years and our last major release had more security improvements included than any other previous release.”
The Blackboard application has been downloaded more than 1 million times from students across the country, according to AppBrain.com, a mobile application data website.
Eva Cooper, a Grand Rapids senior, uses Google Maps and social media apps like Facebook and Twitter frequently, and called data collection from mobile applications scary.
“That’s pretty disconcerting,” Cooper said. “I know it’s hard to keep any information private nowadays, but as a person who uses these apps, it’s scary to think people can use the information how they please and (you’re not aware of) who’s using it.”
Zeeland sophomore Drew Tomkins has 40 or so mobile apps, including Angry Birds, on his iPhone 4S, which he has had for about a year.
Tomkins said he trusts the government’s judgment as far as data collection is concerned.
“With government use, I’ve found it not to be a big deal,” he said. “So be it. I don’t like my personal information being out there, but I trust what the government is doing – for the most part.”
However, Tomkins said he doesn’t like having to type in personal information, such as a birthday, in order for an app to download.
“I don’t feel comfortable unless it’s a trusted brand name,” he said.
One of the security protections that Blackboard provides is a process called Threat Modeling.
Threat Modeling involves reviewing high-risk security threats so countermeasures can be applied to the app to protect the user, their data and the application itself from threats, according to the Blackboard website.
Blackboard also develops all of its applications and materials in compliance with the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, which includes protection of a student’s name, academic records and home address from outside use without the student’s consent.
“For Blackboard, personally identifiable information is student record data that identifies the specific student,” according to the Blackboard website. “There is a difference between ‘personal data’ meaning information that is tied to a specific person, and ‘aggregate data,’ the cumulative or summary information that does not specifically identify any particular person.”
The CMU mobile application, CMU Connect, has been downloaded from the Google Play store between 5,000 and 10,000 times on Android devices since its launch on Jan. 30, 2010, according to the store’s site.
Straxis Technologies, the company responsible for developing the CMU Connect app, could not be reached for comment.