Security researchers say iPhone users should uninstall Facebook from their handsets

Security researchers say iPhone users should uninstall Facebook from their handsets
The first batch of commercials that Apple created to help sell its new smartphone back in 2007 included one that was aimed at Facebook users. "If you love Facebook so much that you check it every time you're at the computer, just think how great it would be to check it every time you're, well, nowhere near your computer." Of course, back then there was no App Store and you would have to use the mobile Safari browser to access the site.

Facebook uses your phone's accelerometer to collect personal data

Now, over 14 years later, iOS users are being warned by security researchers (via Forbes) that they need to delete the Facebook app from their phones. Why? Because even if they opt-out of being tracked by third-party apps, Facebook still collects location data using metadata from their pictures and IP addresses. Facebook admits that it collects information in this manner, but won't discuss why it is wrong for them to do so when a user chooses not to be tracked.

Security researchers say that Facebook also uses the accelerometer on your iPhone to track your movements which can lead to Facebook discovering your behaviors and activities at certain times of the day. It can also link you with people around you even if you have no idea who these people are. The accelerometer can help determine if you are lying down, sitting, or walking while using an app.

There is no way to turn this off and stop Facebook from mining the data from your accelerometer. Researchers Talal Haj Bakry and Tommy Mysk say that "Facebook reads accelerometer data all the time. If you don’t allow Facebook access to your location, the app can still infer your exact location only by grouping you with users matching the same vibration pattern that your phone accelerometer records."

Both researchers say that accelerometer data is collected by Facebook, Instagram, and Whats App, although it can be disabled with the latter. Mysk says, "In Facebook and Instagram it is not clear why the app is reading the accelerometer—I couldn’t find a way to disable it." And that means that the only way to prevent Facebook and Instagram from collecting this information is to delete the apps from your phone.

Other similar apps including iMessage, Telegram, Signal, TikTok, and WeChat do not use a subscriber's accelerometer

Interestingly, Mysk checked out TikTok, WeChat, iMessage, Telegram, and Signal. The security researcher determined that none of the five apps use the accelerometer from their subscribers' phones to gather information. He added that "Although the accelerometer data seems to be innocuous, it’s jaw-dropping what apps can make up of these measurements."

Mysk added that "Apps can figure out the user’s heart rate, movements, and even precise location. Worse, all iOS apps can read the measurements of this sensor without permission. In other words, the user wouldn’t know if an app is measuring their heart rate while using the app." Facebook confirmed to Forbes that "we use accelerometer data for features like shake-to-report, and to ensure certain kinds of camera functionality such as panning around for a 360-degree photo or for camera."

When you toggle off the shake to report feature in the Facebook app, nothing happens when you shake the phone but the app continues to draw information from the accelerometer. Facebook even has filed an application for a patent on a way to use wireless phone signals to connect strangers.

The researchers use an example of two passengers on a bus to explain how Facebook can use the accelerometer to find your precise location. How? "If you are on the bus and a passenger is sharing their precise location with Facebook," they say, Facebook can easily tell that you are in the same location as the passenger. Both vibration patterns are going to be identical."

Again, the only way to prevent this from happening is to uninstall the Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp apps from your iPhone.
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