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Stop iOS apps from using push notification tracking to spy on you

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Apple Privacy: How To

Any time a company sends a push notification to an iPhone, its application can gather information about the user, including their location, according to security researchers. Meta and TikTok reportedly use push notification tracking, and many other companies do it, too.

Fortunately, there’s a simple solution for users to protect their privacy and keep apps from spying on them.

TikTok and Facebook use push notifications to secretly track users

Social media companies are really advertising companies, and they make more money off their ads if they can target them to users. So they collect personal information in every way they can. Turns out one of the ways is push notification tracking, according to Mysk, a pair of security researchers.

When an iPhone application such as Facebook receives a notification — maybe the user has received a “like” — a lot more happens than a simple on-screen popup. iOS allows closed apps to activate in the background and run to process the notification.

The idea is to enable the third-party software to make the notifications shown on the iPhone more useful. But companies are using the feature to gather data on users whenever they receive a notification.

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As the security researchers at Mysk explain:

“Unsurprisingly, many social apps notorious for their aggressive data harvesting practices are taking advantage of the background execution time enabled by push notifications. In fact, developers can harness this workaround to run code in the background on demand. All they have to do is send push notifications to their users. As a result, iOS would wake their app in the background on every device, then the app runs whatever code the developer has built into the app.”

Many apps ask to track the user’s location, but users can limit that to only when the app is running. But an application that’s processing a notification is running and so can record and transmit location information.

It doesn’t stop there. Mysk reports that that iPhone applications are using push notification tracking to collect “system uptime, locale, keyboard language, available memory, battery status, device model, display brightness, to mention a few. Such signals are commonly used for fingerprinting and tracking users across different apps developed by different developers.”

The practice is apparently widespread. It’s used by TikTok, Facebook, FB Messenger, Instagram, Threads, X and “many more,” according to Mysk. Last December, Apple confirmed that some governments use push notification spying.

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How to protect your privacy: Disable notifications

Disable notifications for shady apps to prevent push notification tracking.
Screenshots: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to block push notification tracking: Simply stop allowing questionable iPhone applications to send you notifications.

Making the change isn’t difficult, but it has to be done for every app. And the security researchers at Mysk say it’s necessary to disable all notifications for a given app — switching to badges or only alert sounds isn’t enough.

To make the change, go to Settings and scroll down to Notifications. Find the app you want to disable notifications for and tap on it. A page with a full range of notification options will appear, but all you need is the one at the top: Be sure Allow Notifications is toggled off.

Repeat the process for Facebook, X, etc.

Obviously, protecting your privacy means giving up receiving alerts whenever someone likes or responds to one of your social media posts. But the change will probably make you more productive … and might even make you happier.

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Mysk created a video with more details on push notification tracking:



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Snapchat Explores New Messaging Retention Feature: A Game-Changer or Risky Move?

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Snapchat Explores New Messaging Retention Feature: A Game-Changer or Risky Move?

In a recent announcement, Snapchat revealed a groundbreaking update that challenges its traditional design ethos. The platform is experimenting with an option that allows users to defy the 24-hour auto-delete rule, a feature synonymous with Snapchat’s ephemeral messaging model.

The proposed change aims to introduce a “Never delete” option in messaging retention settings, aligning Snapchat more closely with conventional messaging apps. While this move may blur Snapchat’s distinctive selling point, Snap appears convinced of its necessity.

According to Snap, the decision stems from user feedback and a commitment to innovation based on user needs. The company aims to provide greater flexibility and control over conversations, catering to the preferences of its community.

Currently undergoing trials in select markets, the new feature empowers users to adjust retention settings on a conversation-by-conversation basis. Flexibility remains paramount, with participants able to modify settings within chats and receive in-chat notifications to ensure transparency.

Snapchat underscores that the default auto-delete feature will persist, reinforcing its design philosophy centered on ephemerality. However, with the app gaining traction as a primary messaging platform, the option offers users a means to preserve longer chat histories.

The update marks a pivotal moment for Snapchat, renowned for its disappearing message premise, especially popular among younger demographics. Retaining this focus has been pivotal to Snapchat’s identity, but the shift suggests a broader strategy aimed at diversifying its user base.

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This strategy may appeal particularly to older demographics, potentially extending Snapchat’s relevance as users age. By emulating features of conventional messaging platforms, Snapchat seeks to enhance its appeal and broaden its reach.

Yet, the introduction of message retention poses questions about Snapchat’s uniqueness. While addressing user demands, the risk of diluting Snapchat’s distinctiveness looms large.

As Snapchat ventures into uncharted territory, the outcome of this experiment remains uncertain. Will message retention propel Snapchat to new heights, or will it compromise the platform’s uniqueness?

Only time will tell.

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Catering to specific audience boosts your business, says accountant turned coach

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Catering to specific audience boosts your business, says accountant turned coach

While it is tempting to try to appeal to a broad audience, the founder of alcohol-free coaching service Just the Tonic, Sandra Parker, believes the best thing you can do for your business is focus on your niche. Here’s how she did just that.

When running a business, reaching out to as many clients as possible can be tempting. But it also risks making your marketing “too generic,” warns Sandra Parker, the founder of Just The Tonic Coaching.

“From the very start of my business, I knew exactly who I could help and who I couldn’t,” Parker told My Biggest Lessons.

Parker struggled with alcohol dependence as a young professional. Today, her business targets high-achieving individuals who face challenges similar to those she had early in her career.

“I understand their frustrations, I understand their fears, and I understand their coping mechanisms and the stories they’re telling themselves,” Parker said. “Because of that, I’m able to market very effectively, to speak in a language that they understand, and am able to reach them.” 

“I believe that it’s really important that you know exactly who your customer or your client is, and you target them, and you resist the temptation to make your marketing too generic to try and reach everyone,” she explained.

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“If you speak specifically to your target clients, you will reach them, and I believe that’s the way that you’re going to be more successful.

Watch the video for more of Sandra Parker’s biggest lessons.

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Instagram Tests Live-Stream Games to Enhance Engagement

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Instagram Tests Live-Stream Games to Enhance Engagement

Instagram’s testing out some new options to help spice up your live-streams in the app, with some live broadcasters now able to select a game that they can play with viewers in-stream.

As you can see in these example screens, posted by Ahmed Ghanem, some creators now have the option to play either “This or That”, a question and answer prompt that you can share with your viewers, or “Trivia”, to generate more engagement within your IG live-streams.

That could be a simple way to spark more conversation and interaction, which could then lead into further engagement opportunities from your live audience.

Meta’s been exploring more ways to make live-streaming a bigger consideration for IG creators, with a view to live-streams potentially catching on with more users.

That includes the gradual expansion of its “Stars” live-stream donation program, giving more creators in more regions a means to accept donations from live-stream viewers, while back in December, Instagram also added some new options to make it easier to go live using third-party tools via desktop PCs.

Live streaming has been a major shift in China, where shopping live-streams, in particular, have led to massive opportunities for streaming platforms. They haven’t caught on in the same way in Western regions, but as TikTok and YouTube look to push live-stream adoption, there is still a chance that they will become a much bigger element in future.

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Which is why IG is also trying to stay in touch, and add more ways for its creators to engage via streams. Live-stream games is another element within this, which could make this a better community-building, and potentially sales-driving option.

We’ve asked Instagram for more information on this test, and we’ll update this post if/when we hear back.

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