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Hit App Sarahah Quietly Uploads Your Address Book (theintercept.com) 72

An anonymous reader shares a report: Sarahah, a new app that lets people sign up to receive anonymized, candid messages, has been surging in popularity; somewhere north of 18 million people are estimated to have downloaded it from Apple and Google's online stores, making it the No. 3 most downloaded free software title for iPhones and iPads. Sarahah bills itself as a way to "receive honest feedback" from friends and employees. But the app is collecting more than just feedback messages. When launched for the first time, it immediately harvests and uploads all phone numbers and email addresses in your address book. Although Sarahah does in some cases ask for permission to access contacts, it does not disclose that it uploads such data, nor does it seem to make any functional use of the information. Zachary Julian, a senior security analyst at Bishop Fox, discovered Sarahah is uploading of private information when he installed the app on his Android phone, a Galaxy S5 running Android 5.1.1. The phone was outfitted with monitoring software, known as Burp Suite, which intercepts internet traffic entering and leaving the device, allowing the owner to see what data is sent to remote servers. When Julian launched Sarahah on the device, Burp Suite caught the app in the act of uploading his private data.
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Hit App Sarahah Quietly Uploads Your Address Book

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  • Seems to me more and more the entire 'app store' concept is a failure from the stand point of just about everything but making money. At best you have a little simple program that can't do a whole lot of anything, but it's also always one TOS change away from completely destroying your data security. Not to mention that they seem to be just as susceptible to a lot of the common security problems that show up.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      This is exactly why people should only use FOSS software or software that they write themselves. Otherwise, you just don't know.
    • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @12:49PM (#55098019) Journal
      Nope. At least on iOS the app cannot access your address book without you giving it explicit permission (apparently also the case on newer version of Android according to the article). Neither can it access anything else. There also seems to be much less worry about malware on iOS; most BYOD schemes I've seen require virus scanners, sandboxing and/or monitoring software on Android, but only require a strong PIN on iPhones (or the fingerprint scanner)

      By the way, accessing the address book in order to find out if any of your friends are making use of the service is a legitimate reason to access the address book. I suspect it's an important reason for WhatsApp to become as popular as it did, since you didn't need to ask your friends if they signed up and what their handle was. But for this very reason you would expect Apple and Google to come up with a way to match friends on your address list without giving them full access, for example by providing a function that gives you a unique (for your service) user ID for each contact, by hashing a phone nr after salting it with the App ID or some such. That way the app can poll the service to see who signed up without requiring access to the actual address book.
      • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @01:12PM (#55098167)

        . At least on iOS the app cannot access your address book without you giving it explicit permission (apparently also the case on newer version of Android according to the article). Neither can it access anything else

        The trouble remains that 'access' and 'upload the entire thing' is the same thing.

        I suspect it's an important reason for WhatsApp to become as popular as it did, since you didn't need to ask your friends if they signed up and what their handle was.

        Feature or bug? Maybe I don't WANT *everyone* to know I signed up. I signed up for telegram a while back to try it out with my wife. I was pretty appalled when a bunch of people at work started messaging me all over the place on it. We already have plenty of approved channels for them to reach me on; i was deliberately looking for something that I could leave running 24x7 on multiple devices... and not get messages from people at work.

        But for this very reason you would expect Apple and Google to come up with a way to match friends on your address list without giving them full access, for example by providing a function that gives you a unique (for your service) user ID for each contact, by hashing a phone nr after salting it with the App ID or some such. That way the app can poll the service to see who signed up without requiring access to the actual address book.

        This is a good idea. But even that is more sharing than I might want. They still get to build a social graph on graph on me that's bigger than letting me expose only the social graph I want to expose to them. They still know I am 'connectd' to all those people at work, even though i have no intention of connecting to them on the app, etc.

        Games are notably bad for this too. I might wish to play a game and associate and communicate and share only with my wife and kids... but the social shit brings my sister inlaw in, randos at work, the neighbors, vendors and clients, lawyers and accountants, etc... not everyone on my contacts list is my 'friend'; and I don't want to connect to the vast majority of people in my contacts with any given app.

        • Agreed: the OS should prompt for user permission to use even that simple hash function. And iOS guidelines already state that an app should cope when it gets "no" for an answer when asking for access to system features or user data. Sadly most developers want to force you to use the "social shit" since that is what makes their service valuable and a nice candidate to be bought by FB or Google (or at least some idiot VC)
        • I might wish to play a game and associate and communicate and share only with my wife and kids... but the social shit brings my sister inlaw in, randos at work, the neighbors, vendors and clients, lawyers and accountants, etc... not everyone on my contacts list is my 'friend'; and I don't want to connect to the vast majority of people in my contacts with any given app.

          You can get a separate email, phone number, and phone for those things you know. There are reasons for a separate work phone, personal phon

          • by vux984 ( 928602 )

            You can get a separate email, phone number, and phone for those things you know.

            Your suggestion is to pay twice as much per month, to create exactly one group partition? And my neighbors and extended family would still be on the 'personal' one... thanks. but no thanks.

            And no, I can't create separate emails etc for each one unless they explicitly support it. If they tie to the phone number, or android or itunes account etc then I'm pretty much stuck. And creating a new itunes or android/play account for each app is all kinds of headaches of its own. You know what would be better than th

      • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @04:26PM (#55099609)

        So I just ran into this sort of issue with an app... its a simple app.

        https://play.google.com/store/... [google.com]

        It's a simple app... stick your phone on silent, and it pops up to ask you how long. The idea that you usually know how long your want your phone to be silent when you put it on silent, and often forget about afterwards.

        It requests permission to "take videos and pictures"

        WTF right? Why does it need that permission?

        "15.3: Fix for interference with video recording apps. To detect when the camera is in use, camera permission is needed. This is optional in Android 6+, but if you don't give permission, Shush! can't tell that you're using the camera, and may pop up during video recording."

        FFS ... seriously. And you see this sort of thing all the time. To 'play nice' with the phone and make sure it behaves nicely when you are on the phone, or taking a video, etc... the permission to determine simply whether you are using the camera or phone itself requires you to give the app permission to make calls and take videos. Those basic status APIs should be available without special permission or they should require a separate 'status permission' separate from the ability to make calls or take video.

        How are we at version 6 of android, and you still need to give an app permission to take pictures and video just to give it permission to avoid irritating you while you are taking videos with a different app?

        • This is what got annoying on Blackberry as well, a torch app that needs access to your address book, I'm like wtf? Find another one, asks for the same thing, eventually I got off my ass and went and found a flashlight.
      • by jbn-o ( 555068 )

        Nope. At least on iOS the app cannot access your address book without you giving it explicit permission (apparently also the case on newer version of Android according to the article). Neither can it access anything else.

        So long as the software is proprietary, technical users have no idea what the proprietary program is programmed to do (what it's capable of). And when that software is changed (patched or updated) programmers who can figure out what that program does have to re-learn what the program does.

  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @12:38PM (#55097937)

    Previously Sarahah would max out the speaker volume and read my address book aloud while making snarky comments as it read each entry. I'm much happier now that it no longer comments on how often I've called my mother.

  • by asylumx ( 881307 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @12:40PM (#55097963)
    Does it come with a quick-dial to the suicide hotline?

    Joking aside, if you download an app and 'allow contacts' when it asks you, probably you should expect them to be grabbing your contacts and using them however they wish. The only surprise here is that people are surprised by this behavior.
    • The surprise here is that the data left the app unencrypted.

      And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for those pesky kids I hired for $5/hr to code my app not using a TLS certificate and strong trust validation!

    • Permissions need settings: No, Yes, Lie (No but tell the App Yes so I can use the App).
  • by HBI ( 604924 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @12:49PM (#55098023) Journal

    I think the thing missing from most people's evaluation of such things is the integrity of the app author. The presumption that Apple or Google is looking out for you is incorrect, so you have to go back to the author, which has no known past history of integrity. So why would you trust them to anonymize anything, never mind having your contact list?

    This is why I don't download apps, other than the ridiculously short app lifecycles necessitating constant updates. If I don't trust you in the first place, why would I want you updating my phone weekly (or less)?

    This kind of thing is created to prey on the young and stupid, I suppose.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Some apps I use on both Android and iOS - and some I don't. And it amazes me that the iOS version may need only access to the mic but the Android one needs access to contacts, camera, mic, location, photos, and everything else.

      WTF?!

      I will not down load such apps. Access to contacts is forbidden.

      I don't care what the reason/excuse is. And you know what? I don't miss them in the slighest.

      Android apps are the worst offenders.

  • This is totally preaching to the choir here, but sooner or later, everyone needs to come under the realization that your data is worth a TON of dollars. What's better with today's tech, than build you a whiz-bang service for 'free' and how do you think it remains 'free'? Situations exactly like this. It's a completely massive intangible but highly potent asset anyone starting any established or startup company wants to have.

    As long as everyone keeps making a quick popular trend of these types of services

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I was told that VCs will only invest in one of two things:

      Apps that sling ads.
      Apps that suck data in large quanitites.

      This is why stuff like Meitu got so much funding and praise. The app did little to nothing except give a lot of data to its owners.

      Similar with Sarahah. Some relatively shitty servers are up, and now some unknown people over in the Middle East now have a ton of connections of Americans and Europeans, as well as private, intimate things of their life. Perfect intel gathering for people who

  • I was wondering why the volume of spam was up dramatically.

  • I feel android has made this worse recently, with the move to broad "categories" of permissions. Originally it seemed pretty easy to determine when an app was asking for something it didn't need, now it seems every permission has at least one area that could lead to something malicious, and the user is left wondering what the app is actually going to do.
  • Seriously. An app that allows people to send you anonymous messages? I read their justification: to get candid feedback from coworkers and such. I suppose if that is something you welcome, then letting the app have access to your contacts so it would know who can send you messages, is expected.

    But really, who would do this? If I know you, and you want to offer me candid feedback, do it.

    • Its easy, look at the comments made by the cowards on this site. Its a prefect program for anon cowards,ass hats,ex wifes,ex anyone IMO
  • ... those fuckers would steal this idea in a heartbeat.
  • Airbnb asks for a few things to verify your identity, including login to Google or Facebook... However, Google warns you that "Airbnb wants access to your address book" ...
  • People are stupid.

    Furthermore, Sarahah is not free software (which is claimed in the abstract).

  • Almost entirely just like Whatsapp, Facebook, Telegram, etc. etc. etc.

    In fact, I do have something to hide: my contacts' privacy.

    Is there any address book alternative out there that hides data to apps that request access and want to suck it, but makes contacts available to apps with a legitimate need?

    • by nasch ( 598556 )

      How could it know which ones are legitimate or not? You already have to give permission to the app to read your address book.

      • You already have to give permission to the app to read your address book.

        Would be better if you could give permission for it ("it" being probably through settings or ad-hoc permissions in you address book app) to only read certain addresses, or groups of addresses, and not even be aware that others exist.

  • I owned phones with IOS, Android, and Blackberry 10. Android and IOS (at least the versions I had) would only allow you to accept *all* of the permissions the application wants (all or nothing). At least Blackberry 10 would let you refuse individual permissions while accepting others. It rarely works, though. On Blackberry, the apps will double-check that they are getting whatever permissions they want and will refuse to start if you selectively disallow a few.

    Today I use an early Symbian phone (Phillips
  • Are there any good open-source contacts and email apps for android that are reasonably good?
    I am tired of turning off contacts access as a ritual after every other app install. I just want the OS level contact list to be empty or be a dummy list.
    I want a phone app that maintains its own contacts internally... or a separate contacts app that can launch the phone. I really don't need the convenience of invoking contacts from third party apps and find their propensity to download my entire address book creepy.

  • Either have users confirm every instance and be allowed to see what data is being accessed or allow the user to create separate contacts "wallets". I don't know the solution, but this is happening frequently enough that the OS needs to give the user more control than "yeah, have at my black book."

    On iOS you can't even send a text without a user confirmation, but someone wants to dump your entire phonebook and that's OK???

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