Not All Robocall Blocking Apps on Your iPhone Can be Trusted

Spy in the data

The Particle Debris article of the week comes from Zack Whittaker at Tech Crunch.

Spy in the data

Robocall blocking apps caught sending your private data without permission.

Robocall-blocking apps promise to rid your life of spoofed and spam phone calls. But are they as trustworthy as they claim to be?

One security researcher said many of these apps can violate your privacy as soon as they are opened.

This is dismaying because 1) Indie developers inherit a bad reputation for the behavior of others and 2) the behavior never should have circumvented Apple’s scrutiny. If independent testing, in this case by “a senior security consultant at cybersecurity firm NCC Group” can identify this behavior, why can’t Apple?

… he reserved some criticism for Apple, noting that app privacy policies “don’t appear to be monitored” as he discovered with [apps] Truecaller and Hiya.

The whole idea behind the App Store is that we ought to be able to trust the app to comply with Apple’s policies on user privacy. Something has gone wrong.

More News Debris

• Previously, I pointed to suggestions that Apple’s rumored 16-inch MacBook Pro could ship in October. Now, a “New report says Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro will be released sooner than expected.” Maybe September.

• Apple has a new version of its USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter. The model number is A2119. It supports HDMI 2.0 whereas the old version (model A1621) only supported HDMI 1.4. Read all about it in Apple’s support document.

• Phishing emails keep getting sent, and people keep falling for them. Why? Google has done some research and Fast Company has the story. “We keep falling for phishing emails, and Google just revealed why.” Google should know. Google mail blocks about 100 million phishing emails every day.

• Does Apple make it too hard to find and manage subscriptions in iOS? Mashable tries to make the case. “Hey Apple, stop hiding our subscriptions on iOS.” My opinion is that once you learned how to do it, the process doesn’t seem that opaque. Mashable shows how to do it in both iOS 12 and iOS 13. Still, whether it should be made even easier is open for debate.

• AT&T’s DirecTV and CBS have reached an agreement after a nearly three week outage.  “AT&T, CBS end blackout with deal over payment rates for channels.

In a brief joint statement, the companies didn’t disclose financial terms.

Of course. But my guess is that CBS will get the fees it demanded. but over the next few years instead of soon. Your DirecTV subscription price will go up. Your frog will be boiled. slowly.

• AI is in the news. AI ethics—not so much. But here’s a look at how Microsoft views the matter. “What does an AI ethicist do?

Microsoft was one of the earliest companies to begin discussing and advocating for an ethical perspective on artificial intelligence. The issue began to take off at the company in 2016, when CEO Satya Nadella spoke at a developer conference about how the company viewed some of the ethical issues around AI, and later that year published an article about these issues. Nadella’s primary focus was on Microsoft’s orientation toward using AI to augment human capabilities and building trust into intelligent products.

I appreciate CEO Nadella’s emphasis in this matter.

• Finally, we’ve heard about an Apple patent for a foldable device, and we’ve been mildly amused at the efforts by other companies to produce a foldable smartphone. But Apple might be thinking differently. “Apple’s first foldable device could land in 2020, but might not be an iPhone.

This makes sense. That is, create a new iPad product category and see how it does. A larger (iPad) display might offer extra design freedom and avoid the pitfalls Samsung ran into. I like it.


Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro’s observations and opinions about a standout event or article(s) of the week followed by a discussion of articles that didn’t make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holiday weeks.

One thought on “Not All Robocall Blocking Apps on Your iPhone Can be Trusted

  • John:

    Zack Whittaker’s piece on robocalls is a troubling reminder of the pernicious and as yet unstoppable allure of surveillance capitalism and its seduction of even those promising to protect to instead capitalise as compensation, not in the spirit of an open free market as fee for service, but without our knowledge or consent and at our expense. And while one can concede your point that Apple’s curation and oversight should have prevented this abuse, I see companies like Apple and MS swimming upstream against the tide of an unregulated industry untethered from principle, untroubled by ethics and contemptuous of a moral code outside of returning a profit to their shareholders, and constitutionally incapable of self-regulation so long as the waters of this industry remain churned by a laissez faire feeding frenzy. And how could these small third party interests behave otherwise in a competitive environment of eat or be eaten, with an average profit earning life expectancy measured in months? The average infant born into a country with the worst child survival expectation survives longer than this. Rather, what we require is a new paradigm, itself algorithmically driven using modern indicators for intervention, for driving legislation on emerging technology and industries. Relying on the human mind, informed by goodwill, to descry a harmful pattern from disparate observations over time has repeatedly failed, miserably and at cost. Our current machinery of legislation is too slow and too ill-informed. Identifying areas in need of new legislation is one of the emerging use cases to which AI can today be applied, which could be an aid to society in seeing this tool as a net protector of social good rather than its nemesis and would-be heartless overlord.

    As to MS’s AI ethicist, this is a good thing. Indeed, the twin foci of “avoiding algorithmic bias and creating transparency in AI models” are precisely the right ones, if whole demographics and societies are not to be adversely affected either by AI’s direct activities or through its neglect. AI will progressively affect every human being on an increasingly personal level. For example, we are already applying AI to diagnostic algorithms. For serious events, particularly those that are uncommon to rare, but affect and present themselves in men and women differently, for example spontaneous coronary artery dissection or SCAD (look it up – if I include another link this comment will go to arbitration), continuing to use a male preference algorithm even when women are more commonly affected can have disastrous consequences. AI has to be trained to avoid such bias. This is even more pressing when we set AI as a principal sentinel and aid to the physician; physicians who will increasingly rely on AI to guide them on their differential diagnosis in much the same way that we rely on our GPS-guided SatNav to guide us in the general right direction. MS are right in taking the approach of a proactive ethicist. One hopes that Apple are doing similarly. All indications suggest that an ethicist at FB would be about as welcome as holy water at a vampire pool party.

    Regarding the foldable phone, I continue to ask, what problem does this solve? What unspoken but unmet need is being addressed? What unoccupied niche is this filling? The essential requisite of a runaway product or a next big thing is just that – addressing a void that no one else suspected or successfully filled. If the issue is being able to do work on a larger or more capable device than the iPhone screen size, that need is currently met with AirPlay and HandOff. Indeed, the iPhone X successfully demonstrated the screen size gain simply by reducing bezel size and obviating the need for added bulk (and remains my favourite sized handheld for that reason). One could argue that there is a Mallory-esque raison d’être for the device https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/George_Mallory ‘because it’s there’, whereas, based on Samsung’s utter failure and other’s postponement of proposed foldables, it seems less George Mallory and more Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcom https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jurassic_Park_(film) ‘Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should’.

    I’m with Ian Malcolm on the foldable phone. Call me sceptical, call me a wet blanket, but good luck calling me on your foldable iPhone anytime soon.

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