Uber breaks Apple’s rules, German court upholds WhatsApp user data sharing ban, local authorities in Kashmir order ISPs to block social media and messaging apps

Corporate Accountability News Highlights is a regular series by Ranking Digital Rights that highlights key news related to tech companies, freedom of expression, and privacy issues around the world.

Uber, Apple, and user privacy

The New York Times reported that in 2015 Uber ran afoul of Apple’s privacy rules for adding a feature in its iPhone app allowing it to identify devices even after users had deleted the Uber app or erased all contents on the device. The practice, known as “fingerprinting,” tracks devices using their Unique Device Identifier (UDID), which in 2013 Apple announced it would no longer allow app developers to do. According to the article, Uber engineers “geofenced” Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California in an effort to hide that portion of the code from Apple employees. After discovering the code in 2015, Apple CEO Tim Cook demanded that Uber stop fingerprinting devices or it would be banned from the App Store, according to The New York Times.

This issue puts a spotlight on the need for mobile ecosystem companies like Apple, Google, and Samsung, to have clear and transparent user-information collection and retention policies for third-party apps hosted on their app stores. Findings of the 2017 Corporate Accountability Index showed that all three mobile ecosystems evaluated fell short in this regard. While all three companies disclosed they require third-party apps that collect user data to have privacy policies, none disclosed that they review the content of these policies for compliance with app store rules.

German Court bans WhatsApp from sharing user data with other Facebook services

A German court has upheld an order banning Facebook from collecting data on WhatsApp users in Germany. The court ruled that Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, must obtain user consent before its other services can process user information obtained from WhatsApp. WhatsApp updated its terms of service and privacy policy in August 2016 to state that it could share certain user data with Facebook, like a user’s phone number, in order to improve targeting advertising. The German case is one of several ongoing legal challenges the company is facing in the EU over its WhatsApp user data-sharing practices.

Of the 12 internet companies evaluated in the 2017 Corporate Accountability Index, Facebook received the lowest score on our indicator evaluating disclosure of options users have to control what information the company’s collects, retains, and uses. Our research found that WhatsApp did not fully disclose the options users have to control what information is collected or how their information is used for targeted advertising.

ISPs in Kashmir ordered to block social media and messaging services

Authorities in the northern India state of Jammu and Kashmir have ordered all ISPs to block 22 social networks and messaging apps for one month or until further notice. The services include social networks Facebook, Twitter, and QZone, and messaging and VoIP services and apps Skype, WhatsApp, and WeChat, which authorities claim were “being misused by anti-national and anti-social elements” in the Kashmir Valley to disturb “peace and tranquility.” Authorities previously ordered telecommunications companies to suspend 3G and 4G mobile internet services after several videos circulating online of security forces abusing civilians drew outrage from Kashmiris.

The rise of network shutdown orders by governments has sparked growing concerns by human rights groups and policy makers around the world. In 2016, India had the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world, with 31 instances of internet shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir since 2012, according to the Software Freedom Law Centre. The UN Human Rights Council in 2016 condemned network shutdowns as a violation of international human rights law and called on governments to refrain from taking these actions. At the same time, companies should push back on government demands to shut down networks, and clearly explain the circumstances under which they comply with such requests. Findings of the 2017 Corporate Accountability Index showed that all telecommunications companies evaluated failed to meet this obligation to varying extents and none disclosed sufficient information about their policies for responding to network shutdown requests.

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