App Traps: How Cheap Smartphones Siphon User Data in Developing Countries

That’s the headline of a story out Thurs. and in Friday’s paper that I wrote with my colleagues Josh Chin, Myo Myo, and Kersten Zhang. It begins:

For millions of people buying inexpensive smartphones in developing countries where privacy protections are usually low, the convenience of on-the-go internet access could come with a hidden cost: preloaded apps that harvest users’ data without their knowledge.

One such app, included on thousands of Chinese-made Singtech P10 smartphones sold in Myanmar and Cambodia, sends the owner’s location and unique-device details to a mobile-advertising firm in Taiwan called General Mobile Corp., or GMobi. The app also has appeared on smartphones sold in Brazil and those made by manufacturers based in China and India, security researchers said.

Taipei-based GMobi, with a subsidiary in Shanghai, said it uses the data to show targeted ads on the devices. It also sometimes shares the data with device makers to help them learn more about their customers.

Smartphones have been billed as a transformative technology in developing markets, bringing low-cost internet access to hundreds of millions of people. But this growing population of novice consumers, most of them living in countries with lax or nonexistent privacy protections, is also a juicy target for data harvesters, according to security researchers.

Smartphone makers that allow GMobi to install its app on phones they sell are able to use the app to send software updates for their devices known as “firmware” at no cost to them, said GMobi Chief Executive Paul Wu. That benefit is an important consideration for device makers pushing low-cost phones across emerging markets.

“If end users want a free internet service, he or she needs to suffer a little for better targeting ads,” said a GMobi spokeswoman.

Click through to read the rest.

Newley’s Notes 140: Instagram TV; China’s Tech Prowess; Dancing in Movies; See You in a Month!

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Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes.

🏖️ First, an administrative note:

NN will be on summer holiday for the next month or so. So I’ll be back at you the last week in July.

⚽ So, have you been enjoying the World Cup? Of course you have, because it is the the greatest sporting competition in the history of humankind.

How about defending champion Germany’s injury time win yesterday, to salvage their campaign, against an impressive Sweden, whose Ola Toivonen had earlier chipped Manuel Neuer, perhaps the world’s best goalkeeper?

How about Leo Messi and Argentina’s collapse?

How about Ronaldo showing his might?

Can Belgium go all the way? Can Brazil’s Neymar carry the (imagined?) weight of a country’s expectations on his slender shoulders?

All this, and we’re only, like, still in the group stages!

On to this week’s NN…

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🎥 1) Instagram Unveils New Long-Form Video Hub [WSJ] — It’s IG’s “latest attempt to tap into growing demand among consumers and advertisers for mobile video,” my colleagues Benjamin Mullin and Deepa Seetharaman write. IGTV, as it’s called, will compete with Snapchat and YouTube.

At Bloomberg, Shira Ovide predicts it will likely soon be home to inappropriate material, like Facebook and other platforms. From a user standpoint, expect Instagram to become even yet more cluttered. As I wrote recently on Twitter, “Remember when Instagram was a straightforward platform for sharing pics, much lauded for its simplicity?”

🇨🇳 2) Alibaba v. Tencent: The Battle for Supremacy in China [Fortune] — In this lengthy piece, Adam Lashinsky looks at the battle between China’s leading tech firms, which are “as different in culture, style, and approach as Apple is from Google.”

🏆 3) And speaking of which: China is winning the global tech race [FT] — Michael Moritz, a partner at famed Silicon Valley VC firm Sequoia Capital, says “Uber, Airbnb and SpaceX may be hogging the limelight” when it comes to tech firms worth $1 billion or more, “but the undisputed gold medal leaders are the Chinese.”

🍳 4) What did ancient Babylonians eat? A Yale-Harvard team tested their recipes [Yale News] — A team “painstakingly recreated — step by step — three stews” from a clay culinary tablet “as closely as possible to how they would have been prepared and eaten almost 4,000 years ago.”

📼 5) Vintage tech-related blog of the week: Vault of VHS [Vaultofvhs.tumblr.com] — Tag line: “Dedicated to the design of retail VHS packaging, for both home & pre-recorded tapes.”

⚭ 6)Five myths about marriage [Washington Post] A piece in which John Gottman — of the the Gottman Institute, whose email newsletter I recommend — and Christopher Dollard dispel fictions about issues such as common interests, going to bed angry, couples therapy, affairs and relationship contracts.

📣 7) Futbol-related long read of the week: How We Watch Soccer Now [New Yorker] — The dek on Leo Robson’s story: “The World Cup shows how money and media saturation have changed the nature of fandom.”

🐾 8) Canine-related story of the week: These dogs sniff out cybercrime [CNET Magazine] — “Only one out of every 50 dogs tested qualifies to become an electronic storage detection, or ESD, dog” writes Alfred Ng.

🥁 9) Adorable video of the week: Watch this 8-Year-Old Channel John Bonham with Impeccable “Good Times Bad Times” Cover [Reverb] — Go, Yoyoka Soma!

🕺🏾 10) SPECIAL BONUS feel-good video of the week because DID I MENTION THE WORLD CUP IS HERE?! Dancing in Movies [Vimeo] — You’re welcome. (The full list of almost 300 films is here.)

Quote of the week:

“It’s almost as if Warner Bros. has been taken over by Voldemort, trying to use dark magic to destroy the light of a little town.”

That’s from this Kristen de Groot story from Philadelphia headlined “Warner Bros. crackdown puts Dark Mark over Potter festivals.

If you like this newsletter, please forward it to a friend. If you received this from a pal, you can sign up here.

👊 Fist bump from New Delhi — and see you a month!

Newley