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Will Spyware Be Installed On All Verizon Android Phones?

Nearly a week ago, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) republished a report that claimed Verizon intended to install spyware on all subscriber Android devices.

Several days later, Verizon insisted that the new spyware (known as AppFlash) is still being tested. To date, it has only been installed on a single Android device.

The report published by EFF alleges the spyware is highly invasive, tracking what applications are installed on each device and allowing telecommunication giants to sell advertisements based on personal information. This is similar to what Facebook and other social media websites can accomplish with data collected from status updates, clicks, and likes.

Some applications, critics argue, should remain private. For example, fertility or financial institution information is typically viewed as personal. Many phone users want to bar media and telecommunication companies from learning what food they like to order, what games they like to play, and what business they conduct on their mobile phone.

AppFlash, according to EFF, collects the mobile number, device type, operating system, device identifiers, applications downloaded, and interactions with those applications from each Android device. In addition, the location and contact information from each user can be drawn. If installed on all devices, not only would Verizon have access to the horde of data collected, but the company would be free to share that information with subsidiaries.

In response to the backlash, Verizon has made public statements regarding the spyware. In these statements, the company claimed an opt-in program has been (and will be) established, allowing customers to make decisions about their personal information. To date, the company says, the software is only being used on the LG K20 V – and users are required to opt into the program.

“As we said earlier this week,” Verizon wrote. “We are testing AppFlash to make app discovery better for consumers. The test is on a single phone...and you have to opt-in to use the app. Or, you can easily disable the app. Nobody is required to use it. Verizon is committed to your privacy.”

After conflicting responses from Verizon, the EFF withdrew its article without submitting an official retraction. Staff members are currently looking into the controversy, attempting to discern what the company intends to do with AppFlash and how many Android users will be affected. Where the initials claims came from remains unknown.

AppFlash is an Android application.  Visually, it looks like a normal application. However, once the privacy policy comes up, the real features of the program are revealed.

The EFF called on Verizon to “immediately abandon its plans to monitor its customers’ behaviors, and do what it’s paid to do: deliver quality internet service without spying on users.”

Whether or not Verizon is committed to the privacy of subscribers is unclear. It is, however, clear that Verizon is not currently requiring all Android users to take part in AppFlash – which is still being tested and may never come to the forefront of cell phone use.

This myth, fortunately, is busted. 

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