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The universal back door is apparently also used to make phones transmit even when they are turned off. This means their movements are tracked, and may also make the listening feature work. See above for the general universal back door in essentially all mobile phones, which permits converting them into full-time listening devices. Android phones subsidized by the US government come with preinstalled adware and a back door for forcing installation of apps.

The adware is in a modified version of an essential system configuration app. The back door is a surreptitious addition to a program whose stated purpose is to be a universal back door for firmware. All this is in addition to the malware of Android itself. A very popular app found in the Google Play store contained a module that was designed to secretly install malware on the user's computer. The app developers regularly used it to make the computer download and execute any code they wanted.

This is a concrete example of what users are exposed to when they run nonfree apps. They can never be completely sure that a nonfree app is safe. Xiaomi phones come with a universal back door in the application processor, for Xiaomi's use. This is separate from the universal back door in the modem processor that the local phone company can use. A Chinese version of Android has a universal back door. Nearly all models of mobile phones have a universal back door in the modem chip.

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So why did Coolpad bother to introduce another? Because this one is controlled by Coolpad. Samsung Galaxy devices running proprietary Android versions come with a back door that provides remote access to the files stored on the device. Many Android apps fool their users by asking them to decide what permissions to give the program, and then bypassing these permissions. The Android system is supposed to prevent data leaks by running apps in isolated sandboxes, but developers have found ways to access the data by other means, and there is nothing the user can do to stop them from doing so, since both the system and the apps are nonfree.

This is one of the methods that Netflix uses to enforce the geolocation restrictions dictated by the movie studios. We mention them to refute the supposition that prestigious proprietary software doesn't have grave bugs.

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Out of 21 gratis Android antivirus apps that were tested by security researchers, eight failed to detect a test virus. All of them asked for dangerous permissions or contained advertising trackers, with seven being more risky than the average of the most popular Android apps. Siri, Alexa, and all the other voice-control systems can be hijacked by programs that play commands in ultrasound that humans can't hear.

Some Samsung phones randomly send photos to people in the owner's contact list. Many Android devices can be hijacked through their Wi-Fi chips because of a bug in Broadcom's non-free firmware. The mobile apps for communicating with a smart but foolish car have very bad security. This is in addition to the fact that the car contains a cellular modem that tells big brother all the time where it is. If you own such a car, it would be wise to disconnect the modem so as to turn off the tracking.

Samsung phones have a security hole that allows an SMS message to install ransomware. The developers say that it wasn't intended as a back door, and that may well be true. But that leaves the crucial question of whether it functions as one. Because the program is nonfree, we cannot check by studying it. They can be recovered in various ways. A half-blind security critique of a tracking app: it found that blatant flaws allowed anyone to snoop on a user's personal data.

The critique fails entirely to express concern that the app sends the personal data to a server, where the developer gets it all.

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  7. A bug in a proprietary ASN. Many proprietary payment apps transmit personal data in an insecure way. However, the worse aspect of these apps is that payment is not anonymous. Many smartphone apps use insecure authentication methods when storing your personal data on remote servers.

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    This leaves personal information like email addresses, passwords, and health information vulnerable. Because many of these apps are proprietary it makes it hard to impossible to know which apps are at risk. That developer seems to be conscientious about protecting personal data from third parties in general, but it can't protect that data from the state. Quite the contrary: confiding your data to someone else's server, if not first encrypted by you with free software, undermines your rights.

    The insecurity of WhatsApp makes eavesdropping a snap. While there is not much detail here, it seems that this does not operate via the universal back door that we know nearly all portable phones have. It may involve exploiting various bugs. There are lots of bugs in the phones' radio software. This section gives examples of mobile apps harassing or annoying the user, or causing trouble for the user.

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    Samsung phones come preloaded with a version of the Facebook app that can't be deleted. Facebook claims this is a stub which doesn't do anything, but we have to take their word for it, and there is the permanent risk that the app will be activated by an automatic update. Preloading crapware along with a nonfree operating system is common practice, but by making the crapware undeletable, Facebook and Samsung among others are going one step further in their hijacking of users' devices.

    It spreads distrust for contraception. Furthermore, the user interface of most of them was designed to make uninstallation difficult. Users should of course uninstall these dangerous apps if they haven't yet, but they should also stay away from nonfree apps in general. All nonfree apps carry a potential risk because there is no easy way of knowing what they really do.

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    Apple and Samsung deliberately degrade the performance of older phones to force users to buy their newer phones. The Alipay Health Code app estimates whether the user has Covid and tells the cops directly.

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    Any nonfree program could be doing this, and that is a good reason to use free software instead. Many employers demand to do this. For the employee, this is simply nonfree software, as fundamentally unjust and as dangerous as any other nonfree software. The Facebook app tracks users even when it is turned off , after tricking them into giving the app broad permissions in order to use one of its functionalities.

    Keeping track of who downloads a proprietary program is a form of surveillance. There is a proprietary program for adjusting a certain telescopic rifle sight. A US prosecutor has demanded the list of all the 10, or more people who have installed it. Many unscrupulous mobile-app developers keep finding ways to bypass user's settings , regulations, and privacy-enhancing features of the operating system, in order to gather as much private data as they possibly can. Thus, we can't trust rules against spying. What we can trust is having control over the software we run.

    Many Android apps can track users' movements even when the user says not to allow them access to locations. This involves an apparently unintentional weakness in Android, exploited intentionally by malicious apps. In spite of Apple's supposed commitment to privacy, iPhone apps contain trackers that are busy at night sending users' personal information to third parties. But it is likely that most nonfree apps contain trackers.

    Some of these send personally identifying data such as phone fingerprint, exact location, email address, phone number or even delivery address in the case of DoorDash. Once this information is collected by the company, there is no telling what it will be used for. BlizzCon imposed a requirement to run a proprietary phone app to be allowed into the event. This app is a spyware that can snoop on a lot of sensitive data, including user's location and contact list, and has near-complete control over the phone.

    Data collected by menstrual and pregnancy monitoring apps is often available to employers and insurance companies. This has harmful implications for women's rights to equal employment and freedom to make their own pregnancy choices. Don't use these apps, even if someone offers you a reward to do so. A free-software app that does more or less the same thing without spying on you is available from F-Droid , and a new one is being developed. Many Android phones come with a huge number of preinstalled nonfree apps that have access to sensitive data without users' knowledge.

    These hidden apps may either call home with the data, or pass it on to user-installed apps that have access to the network but no direct access to the data. This results in massive surveillance on which the user has absolutely no control. Facebook offered a convenient proprietary library for building mobile apps, which also sent personal data to Facebook. Lots of companies built apps that way and released them, apparently not realizing that all the personal data they collected would go to Facebook as well. It shows that no one can trust a nonfree program, not even the developers of other nonfree programs.

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    The AppCensus database gives information on how Android apps use and misuse users' personal data. Collecting hardware identifiers is in apparent violation of Google's policies. But it seems that Google wasn't aware of it, and, once informed, was in no hurry to take action.

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    This proves that the policies of a development platform are ineffective at preventing nonfree software developers from including malware in their programs. Many nonfree apps have a surveillance feature for recording all the users' actions in interacting with the app. Other technical flaws were found as well. Moreover, a previous investigation had found that half of the top 10 gratis VPN apps have lousy privacy policies.

    The Weather Channel app stored users' locations to the company's server.

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    • Malware in Mobile Devices - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation.