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Verizon To Force 'AppFlash' Spyware On Android Phones 120

saccade.com writes: Verizon is joining with the creators of a tool called "Evie Launcher" to make a new app search/launcher tool called AppFlash, which will be installed on all Verizon phones running Android. The app provides no functionality to users beyond what Google Search does. It does, however, give Verizon a steady stream of metrics on your app usage and searches. A quick glance at the AppFlash privacy policy confirms this is the real purpose behind it: "We collect information about your device and your use of the AppFlash services. This information includes your mobile number, device identifiers, device type and operating system, and information about the AppFlash features and services you use and your interactions with them. We also access information about the list of apps you have on your device. [...] AppFlash information may be shared within the Verizon family of companies, including companies like AOL who may use it to help provide more relevant advertising within the AppFlash experiences and in other places, including non-Verizon sites, services and devices."
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Verizon To Force 'AppFlash' Spyware On Android Phones

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  • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2017 @09:33PM (#54139709)

    Just install a 3rd party ROM on the phone so you dont have to put up with this crap. Oh wait, its Verizon, they lock the phone down so you cant install 3rd party ROMs or remove their crapware...

    Why anyone would go with Verizon when they do this crap instead of going with a phone and carrier that doesn't do crap like this is beyond me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Because most people don't care jackass. They aren't going to hack their phone just to avoid Verizon's crapware. The real question is why Google even allows bastardization of Android by the carriers.

      Apple got that one right. They control the OS completely. The forks of Android to satisfy the handset OEMs and carriers makes Android suspect.

    • I have a vzn phone (lg g2, vzn special version) but I use it on tmobile, its rooted and the vzn version is better since it has qi charging and the non-vzn version does not!

    • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2017 @10:20PM (#54139949)
      "they lock the phone down so you cant install 3rd party ROMs"

      Just buy a Pixel from Google. They work on VZW. They weren't bootloader lock to start, and AFAIK they still aren't.

      And, with recent changes with regard to ISPs [npr.org], what makes you think there's one which "doesn't do crap like this", or won't soon? If there's nothing to prevent it, you can't assume it's not happening just because you don't know about it.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 29, 2017 @11:20PM (#54140197)

        Just buy a Pixel from Google. They work on VZW. They weren't bootloader lock to start, and AFAIK they still aren't.

        In the interests of clarity -- OP was pretty clear, but let's make it absolutely clear: if you buy a Pixel at a retail store (Verizon, BestBuy, WalMart, etc) -- you get a locked bootloader with no carrier lock. It will work on carriers other than Verizon. But it will have Verizon shitware on it.

        You can only get both the "unlocked bootloader" and "no carrier lock" if you buy a Pixel directly from Google.

        • by mjwx ( 966435 )

          Just buy a Pixel from Google. They work on VZW. They weren't bootloader lock to start, and AFAIK they still aren't.

          In the interests of clarity -- OP was pretty clear, but let's make it absolutely clear: if you buy a Pixel at a retail store (Verizon, BestBuy, WalMart, etc) -- you get a locked bootloader with no carrier lock. It will work on carriers other than Verizon. But it will have Verizon shitware on it.

          You can only get both the "unlocked bootloader" and "no carrier lock" if you buy a Pixel directly from Google.

          Can you unlock the bootloader with a single command like I did with my Nexus 4 and 5x?

          • by SumDog ( 466607 )

            Only if Google provides a mean to get the OEM unlock code. Sony has a website you can go to, but not all their phones are unlockable.

            • by mjwx ( 966435 )

              Only if Google provides a mean to get the OEM unlock code. Sony has a website you can go to, but not all their phones are unlockable.

              Google does not provide the carrier unlock code, the carrier puts that on, enforces it and removes it. I was talking about the bootloader unlock like here for the Nexus 5x [androidcentral.com]

              Carrier locking is more of a problem with the unregulated US telecoms industry, here in the UK carriers are required to unlock my phone at my request. Not that I've bought a phone from a carrier... ever. Living in Oz and the UK means that I could buy off the shelf phones that worked on most if not all carriers. Its the same with Iphone

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2017 @10:29PM (#54140001) Homepage Journal

      No, seriously, hear me out.

      1) Choose the samsung model
      2) sign up for samsung MDM developer program.
      3) get your free samsung mdm developer key.
      4) write a small app to disable the package/firewall it.
      5) profit? maybe if the subsidy from verizon was worth it. VERY DOUBTFUL.

      or alternately buy package disabler or some other 1 dollar app that does _Exactly_this_. if you have ever wondered how some of these 1 dollar app disablers manage to do their thing without rooting, this is how. it's free to get the key to do it on limited amount of devices from samsung though, but it's stupid that you can't just approve it locally without signing up as a mdm developer with samsung(totally free, mind you).

      or just use a different operator with byod and decent rates. you might have to move outside of usa to achieve this though.

      Android has the facility for user to give permissions for apps to do device management, BUT there pretty much isn't a single manufacturer that ships phones where it works as you would expect. on samsung for example you need to use their special api to get permission from KNOX and then you ALSO have to have the permission given to the app by putting it as a device admin app).

      *) there are some app packages on the samsung phones that ignore enabled/disabled setting. also none of the package managers on market currently let you disable specific activities/services of an app WHICH THE API LETS YOU TO DO(you can for example break youtubes ads by playing around with this). the samsung mdm api's also give you access to the built in firewall rules and a bunch of other stuff you would normally need to root your phone for.

      • I don't have modpoints (or a samsung device mind you) but kudos on a viable solution. Has anybody actually put an implementation of such a program on github for people with samsung devices to use? That would lower the barrier to entry even further.
      • I'm stuck on step 4.
    • by nightfire-unique ( 253895 ) on Thursday March 30, 2017 @01:14AM (#54140711)

      If Google was smart, they'd put a stop to this immediately. This shit does horrendous damage to the Android "brand" and there's no reason for them to tolerate it.

      Want access to the Play Store, GCM/GMS, etc? Thou shalt not install garbage on customers' devices.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Yeah because that isn't monopolistic behaviour. "Only WE are allowed to spy on our customers."

      • by Puls4r ( 724907 ) on Thursday March 30, 2017 @02:49AM (#54140951)
        You don't understand the phone ecosystem. Android is FREE. Google makes very little money on Android. But they do make loads of money because of android - google play, all their apps, all their services.

        Google wants other folks to use Android. So being total dicks and dictating outlandish stuff will end up biting them in the ass.

        Look at what Samsung is the in the middle of doing. It scares the shit out of both Google and Qualcom. Samsung has an all-Samsung operating system now, has a replacement for Qualcom's processor that's made in house, and is quickly developing their own apps to replace most of googles. Very soon, the Number 1 manufacturer of phones is going to be able to step away from both companies. And that is really going to hurt Google and Qualcomm. That's why Google started making their own phone. They see the writing on the wall.
        • Samsung has an all-Samsung operating system now, has a replacement for Qualcom's processor that's made in house, and is quickly developing their own apps to replace most of googles. Very soon, the Number 1 manufacturer of phones is going to be able to step away from both companies.

          OK, that begs some questions. Is their operating system in fact good enough to compete? Are their apps in fact good enough to compete? Because I don't think they are. And if they aren't, then no, they won't be able to step away from both companies. They're still going to need Google to be successful. There's just not room for another handset manufacturer in the market, at least, not to be successful. While they have their flaws, neither Android nor iOS is unable to run your phone.

          Android is by far the domin

        • by Nemyst ( 1383049 )
          Samsung's tried pulling out of Android in the past and it never worked. Their Tizen watches were terrible compared to Android Wear (which is no small feat considering how poor Google's support is for AW), their forays into Tizen phones flopped, and even just on Android itself, all of their custom software, be it TouchWiz or just apps, tends to be ranked at the very bottom on virtually all levels.

          Samsung would lose a lot from pushing out of Android, they just don't have the software know-how.
        • That is true. Samsung may have their own OS, but what sells phones is the app ecosystem. I would assert that Windows phones have a decent OS, but what brutalized them wasn't the OS, but the relative paucity of apps and developers writing for the platform. Samsung is a strong company, but convincing developers to write apps for only their hardware and only their OS would be an uphill battle.

          Where Android excels at is running on inexpensive devices and having an open app market. This is only going to be m

          • This is only going to be more important over time as the middle class in the US and Europe shrink, where that latest and greatest smartphone may not be something people want, because they have rent to pay or food to eat.

            Forget those markets shrinking, that's irrelevant to the bottom line compared to the developing markets growing. Even if the western world doesn't shrink at all, they will in effect shrink away to nothingness as India and China continue to buy more stuff.

            Plus, a midrange or even entry level smartphone is good enough for almost everything.

            Everything but 3d gaming, basically. Even a single-core phone with 512MB will do everything else, as long as you are willing to wait for it a bit. Quite a bit, as it turns out, but it will still do the things.

    • by Karlt1 ( 231423 )

      Or buy a phone from a company that doesn't allow carriers to install crapware on your phone.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm on Verizon because it works. I can't have dropped calls and service outages. I like T-Mobile's approach. But their coverage is non-existent where I live. But these days it doesn't matter. I took my LTE SIM and popped it in a Nexus phone and presto. No Verizon crapware and good coverage. Problem solved.

      FWIW, While Verizon loves to shovel crapware their customer service and network are very good. I wish they would be content with being a (good) pipe rather than wanting to be a media company.

  • people don't care. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 29, 2017 @09:45PM (#54139781)

    The app provides no functionality to users beyond what Google Search does. It does, however, give Verizon a steady stream of metrics on your app usage and searches.

    For a couple decades there's been a steady stream of shitware of that general nature. "Toolbars" on desktops. "Bonzai buddie". Browser plug ins that exist only to datamine everything you do. Google itself, which profiles you for its own profit, not only web searches but all your emails and travels around the net. Windows 10, spyware built right in. Half the apps in the phone ecosystem that demand to scrape your contacts list for a calculator or whatever.

    People don't care. They have never cared. If they cared, the internet would be a very, VERY different kind of place.

    • by lucm ( 889690 )

      "Briefing" from Samsung is also pretty awful.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They do care. As soon as they found out about CarrierIQ (the very same functionality from the very same Telcos), there was an outrage and carriers were forced to removed it.

      Anti malware is the biggest selling Windows app, people pay to remove the malware, and people moved away from Internet Explorer and its millions of toolbars.

      Bonzai buddie died in 2004 more than a decade ago.

  • by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2017 @10:03PM (#54139865) Homepage Journal

    This should be illegal.

    Seriously. If the EFF isn't the right group to go after Verizon, please let me know who is and I'll donate $100 to the cause.

    The doctrine of first sale should apply to cell phones as much as it applies to everything else. Our oligopolic mobile overlords have gotten away with being shitty corporations for way, way, too long now.

    The saddest line ever penned by man was Stallman was right again.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      How much different is this other step to a police state?

      https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/03/for-sale-your-private-browsing-history/

    • by Tomahawk ( 1343 )

      It should, but didn't your government just vote in a new law yesterday essentially make this perfectly legal?
      Just move country...

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Unfortunately... "Where to" is the question... EU isn't 'really' any better on this than US. Hell in the EU you can copyright a database of factual information... so your mobile carriers could say you are breaking DRM because you aren't allowing them access to their copyrighted material... or some such BS like that...

        Sadly the US's 1st amendment still holds more power than most other things in other countries, and our current political climate aside... is still very useful.

  • Stuff like this makes me glad I only use unlocked phones I buy from a source other than the carrier. (Often the phone manufacturer, or a mostly-direct reseller.) Unfortunately, that means the only major carriers in the US I can now ever use are AT&T and T-Mobile. But then again, its nice to be able to use any device I want on a carrier that doesn't have the technical means (due to an uncommon network technology) to be a jackass about devices.

    • Unfortunately, that means the only major carriers in the US I can now ever use are AT&T and T-Mobile. But then again, its nice to be able to use any device I want on a carrier that doesn't have the technical means (due to an uncommon network technology) to be a jackass about devices.

      And how long do you think this situation will last? Every major corp in the world is looking to rape your privacy - AT&T and T-Mobile probably aren't far behind in locking down everything, in spite of "uncommon network technology". I predict that within two years unlocked bootloaders will be a thing of the past, simply because providers will check on bootloader status and deny access to any phone that hasn't drunk their Kool-Aid.

      • I predict that within two years unlocked bootloaders will be a thing of the past, simply because providers will check on bootloader status and deny access to any phone that hasn't drunk their Kool-Aid.

        I predict that is a lot of bollocks. We're ostensibly getting the right to repair cellphones for three years. It's going to be at least three. :)

        Seriously though, some manufacturers will keep selling phones with unlocked bootloaders as long as we nerds keep telling people not to buy phones with locked bootloaders. So GET THE WORD OUT.

        • Seriously though, some manufacturers will keep selling phones with unlocked bootloaders as long as we nerds keep telling people not to buy phones with locked bootloaders. So GET THE WORD OUT.

          I keep trying to get the word out. But even among my (admittedly few) nerd friends, unlocked bootloaders are uncommon. One friend uses his personal phone so seldom that it's not worth his effort, and he has no choice in his work phone. Another two have either dumb phones or feature phones - they're probably the most sensible ones. Another likes his old Blackberry, while yet another is all Facebooked up and doesn't care about privacy anyway. As for non-nerd friends, I can't even get them to run ad blockers i

          • On a different but related note, do you ever get the sense that 'Snow Crash' might be a little bit prophetic?

            Stephenson remains probably my favorite author. Both it and its sequel The Diamond Age (Chiseled Spam!) give eerily plausible views of the future.

  • ... beginning the deployment of this tool, eh? I guess they figure that the popular vote loser's signature is a sure thing and income from that customer data will be rolling in just in time for the next quarterly conference call with the Wall Street analysts.

  • ... because they already got this [slashdot.org], anyway.

    US Congress Votes To Shred ISP Privacy Rules

    • by rworne ( 538610 )

      Yes.

      And for all the years I've been prodded by Verizon to sign up for their rewards program that gives you points in exchange for data mining your usage. They leave the balance sitting there, tempting me whenever I log in.

      I should sign up and cash out all those points quickly before they shut it down, because there's no need for them to give up anything for this data now.

      • This, and this:

        Verizon offers me an extra 1GB free on my cap if I agree to allow them full access to EVERY GODDAM THING on my phone.

        Guess they'll be pulling that, too?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Evil Launcher"

  • Who's to blame. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Wednesday March 29, 2017 @10:43PM (#54140051)

    Dear Verizon,

    Fuck You.

    Oh, wait, how rude of me.

    Fuck You Very Much.

    I don't know who to blame more. Verizon, or their customer base who doesn't give a shit.

    Consumers, continue to enjoy your privacy ass-raping. You should enjoy it, because you support it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They don't have to enjoy it, they're just indifferent toward it. They put their lives, photos, videos, location, associations, etc on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, et al, carry phones that track their location (this is the case even with dumbphones), send unencrypted traffic (including email) over the public internet and have done this for years (in most cases closing in on 2 decades). You have to understand that from their point of view, at this point the privacy fear mongerers are starting to so

      • ...Bad things can happen no matter what, people aren't going to live in fear of what might happen to the degree that they don't share anything and instead try and be an anonymous, unidentifiable part of society.

        I agree that the level of privacy violation is out of control nowadays but the net effect on the average person is zero so obviously they don't care.

        This bullshit is being forced by corporations because they know their user base doesn't care. They're "indifferent". Well fuck it, why would corporations stop? Ever? Next up, RFID implants. Medical companies will want to track everything in the human body. Of course they'll say it's "for science", but the reality will be personalized health care rates that would make Wall Street HFT look slow. Real-time revenue increases? Sure, why not. After all, consumers are "indifferent" about their health.

        Next

    • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Thursday March 30, 2017 @08:07AM (#54141771)

      It is funny that you compare privacy with intercourse, because privacy is a bit like your virginity. You can only lose it once, won't be able to get it back and you are fucked when you give it away.

  • Evie? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    In security textbooks we usually talk about Alice, Bob, sometimes Charlie, as the communicating parties, and usually use Eve as name for an eavesdropping attacker.

    Nice, they at least call this app what it is.

  • At what point do people start sabotaging Verizon's equipment? At what point do people start insinuating threats to any of their neighbors that happen to work for Verizon? An what point do people erect a guillotine for the CEO and board members of Verizon? Not for a long, long time, if ever These things will continue until then.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just root your phone and put AFWall+ on it. It's available from FDroid. It allows you to block internet access to any app.

  • Disable the app (Score:4, Informative)

    by Tomahawk ( 1343 ) on Thursday March 30, 2017 @12:46AM (#54140609) Homepage

    Most system apps can be disabled in Settings.

    Go to Setting / Apps / AppFlash
    Press the Disable button. It will appear where the Uninstall button normally appears, but for apps that cannot be uninstalled.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's "Evil Launcher", not "Evie Launcher".

  • You don't buy a TV from the cable company, you don't buy a computer from your ISP, so why should you buy a smartphone from your carrier?
    The subsidized phone model is a relic from the pre-smartphone days and more and more people are turning away from it.

    So buy your own phone full price and if you like Verizon, get an unsubsidized plan from Verizon.

    • At $30 a month for 24 month "subscription" for an S8 there are no subsidies offered from Verizon. S7? $24 for 24. AT&T is the same only they spread theirs over 30 months. Subsidies appear to be gone for the most part.
  • Just another reason to drop Verizon.

    What is actually odd is that they are being so blatant about it. How hard would it be for them to surreptitiously do this and really do you think they are not doing this already.

    Does anyone actually use Evi(L)e launcher?

  • What is vzw going to do about business account holders? The laws known as HIPPA and Sarbanes/Oxley will drop the hammer on vzw's toes for this one. I know of more than a few business accounts that will get terminated once this hits the bricks.

    And so will a vzw rep for suggesting this in the first place.

    We're talking million-dollar business accounts here folks...

  • by IWantMoreSpamPlease ( 571972 ) on Thursday March 30, 2017 @09:57AM (#54142557) Homepage Journal

    Is an app called "noroot firewall"
    You can block off specific programs from accessing the network. Pretty handy for ad blocking in appls and other things.

  • THEIR network...their rules. Don't like it? Go somewhere else. Oh, that would be at&t, sprint, t-mobile? Don't like it? Build your own network. Personally, I use an MVNO...yeah, "technically" I use at&t's towers, but for less than 1/2 the price.
    • That's exactly the point. Those million dollar business accounts will grow legs and walk across the street, something vzw does not want to happen. If vzw insists on maintaining this course, it's vzw's fault, no one else's.

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