Ding-Dong, It's Surveillance!

Why we need to keep talking about Ring and "plug-in surveillance."

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently published results of a study into Ring’s surveillance of its customers. If you are a Ring customer and use an Android phone, your Ring app is packed with third-party trackers which send out a whole range of personally identifiable information to a whole bunch of analytics and data broking-type companies. Data may include your name, mobile carrier, private IP address and sensor data (such as settings on the accelerometer your phone).

For example, Facebook receives alerts when the app is opened and includes time zone, device model, language preferences, screen resolution and a unique identifier that persists even if the user resets certain settings. Facebook receives this even if you do not have a Facebook account.

Branch receives a number of unique identifiers, such as fingerprint identification information and hardware identification data, as well as your device’s local IP address, model and screen resolution. Branch describes itself as a “deep linking” platform. Deep linking, in the context of a mobile app, uses an identifier that links to a specific location within a mobile app rather than simply launching the app. Deferred deep linking allows users to deep link to content even if the app is not already installed. For advertisers and data brokers it’s important because it acts like a backdoor to specific content (say, a particular product) when someone doesn’t have the relevant app already installed. Ring sells device information so that Branch can perform this function behind the scenes.

AppsFlyer also receives data which it uses as part of its offer to marketers. The company specializes in marketing attribution. AppsFlyer can come preinstalled on a low-end Android device - something called “bloatware” - where it is used to offset the cost of the phone by selling consumer data. This practice disproportionality affects low-income consumers because they tend to buy the cheapest phones.

The most data goes to Mixpanel, a business analytics service company. It tracks user interactions with web and mobile applications and provides tools for targeted communication with them.

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