On Trend: Blame It On The Third-Party Service

Here’s the newest budding “trend” in the tech industry: when your app gets hacked and users’ privacy compromised as a result, don’t take the blame, but point your finger at an incompetent third-party application for its failure. In the span of one week, both Snapchat and Dropbox have resorted to this tactic after news of major security breaches broke. Snapchat is specifically naming Snapsaved.com as the leak source, while Dropbox vaguely faults “several third-party apps”.

One troubling implication with this blaming game is that by choosing and trusting poorly secured third-party application with their personal data, the users have no one but themselves to blame. Snapchat even specifically noted in a statement that “Snapchatters were victimized by their use of third-party apps to send and receive Snaps, a practice that we expressly prohibit in our Terms of Use precisely”.

But still, the truth remains that Snapchat and alike could at least take partial blame for not managing their APIs and monitoring third-party services better. It is common practice for big-league social services like Twitter and Facebook to develop official APIs for better control over third-party apps, yet neither Snapchat nor Dropbox has released one. With more users turning to third-party apps for features unavailable in the main app, cloud-based services like these are in need of better regulation over their APIs. Resorting to a clause buried deeply inside a lengthy Terms of Use is not going to help eliminate the security concerns, and it is our hope that such “trend” will not catch on.

Global Watch: How The Hike Messaging App Wins India

Editor’s Note: This marks the first entry of our new publishing series “Global Watch”, where we look at the emerging markets around the world and highlight stories that feature new, disruptive media and technology.

Hike is a messaging app that is gaining popularity among the young people in India. The reason? The app tailors its features to the unique reality of India’s emerging market.

For one, it prioritizes the privacy of its users. It is culturally common for young folks in India to live with their parents until marriage, and the special Hidden Mode of Hike makes it harder for nosy parents and siblings to snoop around their private messages. In addition, Hike supports sending messages between smartphones and “dumb” phones, giving it another big advantage in India, where the majority of mobile users still use phones with limited Internet capability.

With $86 million investment from telecomm companies like Bharti and SoftBank, Hike is not thinking about monetization yet. Less than two years old, Hike’s free app currently has more than 35 million users. And it still has plenty of room to grow, as the Indian market has more than 1 billion mobile subscribers and no single dominant messaging app.

Why Facebook’s Privacy Check-up Falls Short

Facebook appears to have learned its lesson from the recent “psychology experiment” controversy and moved informed consent up on its priority list. The social media platform is planning to push a multi-step privacy checkup that re-educates the users on privacy settings. Well-intentioned as it might be, this check-up program falls short as it is only designed for the web platform. With over 78% of its U.S. users now accessing Facebook primarily through mobile, this program clearly needs to develop on mobile version to cover its bases.

How Netflix Is Using Facebook Integration Right

Netflix has quietly released a new feature that enables the viewers to send recommendations to selected Facebook friends once they opt to link up the two accounts. Instead of just posting the recommendation to your friends’ walls on your behalf, Netflix is actually taking a more respectful approach by sending these suggestions either through private Facebook messages or, if they have also linked up their accounts, via Netflix notifications. (After all, not everyone needs to know your appreciation for 90’s rom-coms starring Julia Roberts.) Brands attempting to integrate Facebook or other social elements into their campaigns should take note of this approach, which respects and protects users’ privacy by design.

By The Numbers: Digital Privacy Concerns

As more companies collect personal data, the potential for leaks and scandals has dramatically increased, along with consumers’ concerns about misuse: according to a research conducted by Temkin Group, nearly 75% of the respondents were worried about their personal information, a figure that has steadily risen over the past 3 years.

privacy concern breakdown

Different digital platforms, however, encourage varying degrees of trust, as a study by Harris Interactive reveals. A majority (66%) of the survey participants expressed concern for privacy on social media sites—the least trusted channel overall, followed by email and web browsing.

privacy concern by platform

Distrust of social media sites in particular varies between generations. Younger users (those below 35) are more trusting, with only 12% saying they don’t trust such sites. Generally, skepticism increases with age, with one-third of Internet users aged 55 to 64 reporting distrust.


Clearly, digital privacy will continue to be a hot-button issue, so successful brands must carefully respond to consumers’ concerns and take appropriate steps to protect their data.

Attention! There is A New Security Loophole On Your Smartphone

Researchers from Stanford University have discovered a new privacy concern on smartphones: the gyroscope. They found that not only were the gyroscopes sensitive to phone vibrations, they could also pick up the frequency of minute air vibrations around the device, which gives them the capability to serve as unauthorized microphones that eavesdrop on your personal conversations. This new finding could potentially bring a new set of regulations regarding the use of gyroscopes on digital devices.

The Problematic Canvas Fingerprinting, A New Tracking Technology

Another day, another new technology to track people on the internet. Forbes reports that a new tracking technology called Canvas Fingerprinting that can tracks internet surfers’ web behaviors even with anti-tracking tools or strict privacy settings in place.

Here’s how it works. By employing Canvas Fingerprinting, websites can secretively send your web browser a request to generate a hidden image consisting of some text, and then assigns a “fingerprint” for each computer based on the image produced. Because of the slight setting variations in font, browser, or graphic rendering between each end device, the generated fingerprint would be unique and therefore be employed for tracking. Different websites utilizing this same tracking system can track a user from site to site, with currently no way for users to opt-out.

As with the recent Facebook experiment debacle, we here at the IPG Media Lab highly value privacy and strictly follow the rule of “informed consent first” in our conduct. By design, Canvas Fingerprinting is inherently sneaky and secretive, and therefore problematic without proper legislation.

Facebook’s Psychology Experiment Raises Privacy Concerns

News broke recently that Facebook had manipulated 690,000 users’ Facebook experiences in order to see if a more positive news feed affected user behavior. The experiment only affected news feeds, and in the end found that emotion is contagious: those exposed to more positive posts posted more positive material, and vice versa. What’s concerning, though, is that Facebook – on a whim – decided it would use its users as psychological subjects, which goes against several different types of ethics. It plays into the narrative that is spouted more and more: Internet companies do not have users’ best interests at heart, and are in it for their own financial gain. Whether users will continue to trust Facebook in the same way that they once did a few years ago seems unlikely. 

Second Screen Scare: Facebook Accesses Your Microphone

Facebook’s app can now access your microphone to listen to what’s around you. The current use case is enabling easy sharing of music and video, much like the social functionality on Shazam. Yet, the opt-in feature is having many opt-out with over half a million already signing a petition to nix it altogether. 

Sharing isn’t necessarily a pain point on Facebook. People rarely complain that they can’t share something given the ubiquitous “Share” buttons (like the one below this article). In actuality, this is about enriching audience data for advertisers by marrying Facebook data with music and TV consumption. If users opt-in, they could be retargeted based on media viewing and even served up synchronous ads on FB based on what they’re watching on TV.

Facebook Updates Privacy For All Posts

Since the birth of Facebook, public posting has been the default method – until today, that is. In response to continuing calls for user privacy, Facebook is changing the default privacy settings to “Friends Only,” meaning that upon first registering for the network, your post will only be viewable by your friends. It’s a strong message sent by Facebook, a network that’s seen its stock slip lower in recent months relative to “secure” messaging apps like SnapChat. Whether the move increases consumer confidence, however, remains to be seen.