Privacy: Workers “would pay” to stop snoopers

Online privacy has gone from being a minority concern to something that worries the man in the street – after a study of 2,000 people found a majority believed they were being listened to online, and nearly a third would pay to stop it.

The research, carried out with a group of 1,000 employees in the UK and 1,000 in Germany, was commissioned by Blackphone, the “ultra-private” encrypted Android handset which was “hacked” on stage in five minutes at DEF CON (the company promised to patch the issue). Silent Circle, the company behind BlackPhone – and the widely used PGP encryption standard  – clearly wishes to highlight that privacy is becoming a mainstream issue.

Privacy issues have become an increasing concern outside the security community – in part thanks to revelations of government surveillance, as discussed by ESET researcher Stephen Cobb. Silent Circle carried out the survey in May this year, via OnePoll and found that 88% of UK workers believe their calls and texts are being listened to, versus 72% of Germans – it’s not clear by whom.

Who is listening in?

Nearly a third – 31% – of Germans would pay for a service which guaranteed their texts and calls were not being listened to. In Britain, 21% would do so. Germany is traditionally more privacy-conscious – services such as Google StreetView are not permitted there.

The scandal over Facebook’s Messenger app – and the overstated responses of many media outlets, served to highlight this. Cosmopolitan writes, “Basically, it can control your whole phone. And, most scarily of all, CALL PEOPLE.” Cosmopolitan had not been previously known for its concern with online privacy.

Users are already anxious over the list of permissions granted to Facebook’s main app  - which has expanded. Many apps – such as Facebook’s, have come under fire for Permissions which change after the app has been installed. For instance, Facebook now requires the ability to turn a smartphone’s Wi-Fi connection on and off.

Veteran online privacy writer and researcher and We Live Security contributor Graham Cluley said, “The world has changed. People who would have imagined ten years ago that “identity theft” was something from a sci-fi film, now have a genuine concern about their private data being stolen from the online companies they deal with, their web traffic tracked, and their communications being snooped upon.”

No such thing as a “free” app

Cluley says that consumers are realizing that ‘free’ software is often paid for through a loss of online privacy, “Additionally, users are becoming more suspicious of free apps and asking themselves how the developers might be planning to earn money, and are nervous of sharing too much information.  There probably is a market out there for more products which charge a little bit of money for a whole lot more security and privacy.”

Silent Circle, creators of the PGP encryption standard, admitted their errors after BlackPhone’s highly public hacking, saying, “No hard feelings — things get fixed by being found.”

Vic Hyder, Revenue Chief for Silent Circle suggests, “These figures confirm that many consumers recognize mobile communications are no longer private. It’s also reassuring that almost a quarter of the UK respondents, and a third of Germans, value their privacy enough to acquire assistance. This is a trend we’re seeing dramatically increase as individuals start to realize that they do have an option to privacy erosion.”

Author Rob Waugh, We Live Security

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