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Cyber security firm Avast alleges spying by Google, WhatsApp and Facebook

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Washington :Cyber security firm Avast ón Thursday alleged spying by Google, WhatsApp and Facebook. This comes on the lines of a new survey which showed that global online freedom declined for a fifth consecutive year.

“Google is an advertising company. Google revenue is basically from AdWords. Spying on users, getting what they are interested in and serving them advertisement is what their business model is. There is nothing inherent wrong with it. Users know what’s going on, I think,” Avast CEO Vincent Steckler said.

He was talking on the sidelines of release of Avast findings on cybersecurity issues and unveiling of anti-theft mobile security software.

Steckler added that WhatsApp too breaches data privacy of users.

“Did you ask all of your friends and colleague to share their personal and private information with Facebook. That’s another biggest user of privacy. WhatsApp is a data collector to serve you advertising inside Facebook … you get advertisement on Facebook based on conversation you had on WhatsApp,” Steckler said.

When asked for comments, a Google spokesperson said, “As a policy, we cannot comment on this without looking at specific report.”

The privacy policy page of Google says, “When you use our services, you trust us with your information. Data enables us to provide our services like Search, Gmail, and Maps. Data also helps us show relevant ads, so we can make our services free for everyone.”

No comments were received from Facebook on the issue.

Steckler said that users also breach privacy of their acquaintances by sharing contact details to use applications on mobile phones.

“In order to use WhatsApp, you have to share your entire contact database, which means you provided all your friends and colleagues contact details to Facebook. Do you have right to do that?” Steckler said.

According to the report more governments stepped up electronic surveillance and clamped down on dissidents using blogs or social media.

The annual report by non-government watchdog Freedom House said the setbacks were especially noticeable in the Middle East, reversing gains seen in the Arab Spring.

Freedom House found declines in online freedom of expression in 32 of the 65 countries assessed since June 2014, with “notable declines” in Libya, France and Ukraine.

The researchers found 61 per cent of the world’s population lives in countries where criticism of the government, military or ruling family has been subject to censorship.

And 58 per cent live in countries where bloggers or others were jailed for sharing content online on political, social and religious issues, according to the “Freedom on the Net 2015” report.

In a new trend, many governments seeking to censor content from opponents have shifted their efforts to targeting online platforms, pressuring services like Google, Facebook and Twitter to remove content, the report said.

“Governments are increasingly pressuring individuals and the private sector to take down or delete offending content, as opposed to relying on blocking and filtering,” said Sanja Kelly, Freedom House’s project director.

“They know that average users have become more technologically savvy and are often able to circumvent state-imposed blocks.”

Freedom House said governments in 14 of the 65 countries passed laws over the past year to step up electronic surveillance.

The report said online freedom took a hit in France from new restrictions on online content that could be seen as an “apology for terrorism” and from a new surveillance law.

It also noted France’s “sweeping legislation requiring telecommunications carriers and providers to, among other things, install ‘black boxes’ that enable the government to collect and analyze metadata on their networks.”

In Libya, Freedom House cited “a troubling increase in violence against bloggers, new cases of political censorship, and rising prices for Internet and mobile phone services.”

In Ukraine, the report highlighted “more prosecutions for content that was critical of the government’s policies, as well as increased violence from pro-Russian paramilitary groups against users who posted pro-Ukraine content in the eastern regions.”

The report said most countries in the Middle East and North Africa, where the emergence of the “Arab Spring” in 2010 and 2011 was aided in part by activists’ use of online social media, were cracking down on government critics.

PTI