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Christmas caution: think before you share

Christmas Day has been the biggest day of the year for online and app downloads in recent years, as users set up the new devices they’ve received as presents.

In the latest report, Apple announced that 180 billion apps had been downloaded from Apple App Store and alongside the enormous growth in the ownership of wearables, parents are finding increasing numbers of electronic toys are likely to rely on connectivity.  

But whilst users are seeking out ever more uses for their new devices, experts are warning consumers to think before they share, as personal data becomes ever more vulnerable.  

There have been many high profile hacking cases in recent years, ranging from Sony in the United States to telecoms provider TalkTalk, and one of the biggest leaks has affected more than 11 million parents and children across the world, with the breach of personal data involving Hong Kong-based toy giant VTech.  Whilst the company said that none of its customers' credit card data was stored or accessed, the information breach included parent names, email addresses, passwords, and secret question answers, as well as children's names, gender and birthdates. 

“We are all doing more and more of our personal affairs online, whether it’s shopping, banking and official tasks like our car tax, or just chatting to our friends and children,” said  Chris Taylor, Partner at Eaton Smith.  “It’s great for convenience, but when you sign up for an app or use online software, you need to be sure the organisation you are dealing with is going to protect your personal information.  And as technology becomes ever more complex, so there are many more ways in which data can be vulnerable, beyond the obvious criminal hacking in to steal personal information.”

Many apps and websites deliver their functionality through a range of third party sources such as social media, weather forecasts, advertisements and news feeds. Some also link to code libraries hosted on third-party websites for processing content.  However, when users are passed through those links, personal information may not be held securely.  One example could be browsing history, as sites generally collect the URL of the last website visited and without proper controls this could be transmitted to a third party when the user is routed there.

Another example, where cyberlife and reality may collide, would be an app that collects location data and interlinks with social networks by posting automatic updates that show a user’s position, which can expose them to direct crime, such as burglary if the update shows they’re away from home.

“Every business should be able to reassure customers that they have a strong cyber-security programme in place,” added Chris. “However, many apps are developed by individuals who are unlikely to have the same sort of risk management in place as larger organisations, so take a look at the reviews and research the app before you press download this Christmas.  Furthermore, throughout the year, safeguard yourself by thinking about the way you interact with apps and software and avoid using the same passwords and memorable information.”


This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.