But what can we do? Nothing, that's what. This is normal. We are 10 years into living with phone apps that literally tell us one thing about our privacy and security, and arrogantly do something else when they feel like it. It's how the app world works.
Case in point: Onavo Protect. Facebook's app recently added a "Protect" button, compelling users to install Onavo Protect via the App Store. It's a cute little VPN app for mobile devices that Facebook owns.
You're not going to believe this (or maybe you will), but Onavo used to be a data-mining app. Researcher Will Strafach recently looked into the app to see how it ticks, and along the way, he revealed its history.
In April 2011, Onavo [is] positioned as a data-saving tool ... ("We will not sell the data or introduce ads to Onavo"). In late 2012, initial citations attributable to "Onavo Insights" appear in the press, regarding app download and usage statistics.
In early 2013, Onavo Insights is publicly launched, enabling subscribers to find out market share, usage data, and Monthly Active Users for different iOS apps (This data is most certainly derived from analysis of Onavo user network traffic).
In summer of 2013, Onavo Acquisition Insights is publicly launched, enabling subscribers to attribute app downloads to specific methods of advertising (This data is also most certainly derived from analysis of Onavo user network traffic). In October 2013, Onavo is purchased by Facebook for an undisclosed sum, estimated to be between $100 million and $200 million.
Onavo's data wasn't for sale either! It was just like oil. Slippery yet profitable. This sounds like a false equivalency, but it's not. Bear with me, I'm a million years old in internet years. Sex blogger grandma (me) is going to tell you a story.
When the general public started switching over to smartphones and the app ecosystem, I had been using a connected phone for years. I saw the way apps were taking over people's experience of the internet -- replacing it -- and how the people making apps (mostly here in San Francisco, some in the circles I ran in) were greedy, dishonest, conservative and extremely entitled. I thought, once people understand how horribly these apps are spying on them and lying about it, they won't suffer through this bullshit anymore.
And then everyone just went along with it. Major press outlets didn't hold any of the app barons accountable. Also, everyone was either trusting, or arrogant, or naive, or just trapped when they needed a safe ride home and Uber was there.
But once the Pandora's Box was opened, of what was really happening with apps data mining and collecting and spying on things we really don't want them to, we were all suddenly citizens of a different world. One where no one was on our side, and the gods were capricious assholes, and awful things happen with our locations, our private moments and our identities, for no reason.
All of this, these egregious consent violations and the endless doublespeak statements about privacy and security when caught? It all happened while companies like Palantir and Google and Facebook gathered up the data and made it weaponizable. Psychopaths got very rich. Women, people of color, poor people and LGBTQ people were targeted online and doxxed with data collected by the offshoots of this industry -- thanks to things like "people finder" websites. Then data collectors like Equifax were hacked because they were negligent, and real people got hurt, lost their identities.
Basically, the absolute worst happened.
So when fatcat CEOs of greedy, consent-violating apps like MoviePass brag about profiteering on our data oil, then try to backtrack when people take them at their word, we can't be expected to take them seriously.
Because the word "privacy" in any app's policy at this point is so cynical a euphemism that we can only say it now with a smirk. I mean obviously, they must be joking.
Images: Paul Thomas Anderson / Miramax (There Will Be Blood movie still); Getty Images for MoviePass (CEO Mitch Lowe)