Yandex’s data harvesting under scrutiny

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In the kind of news fit for a Tom Clancy novel, San Francisco correspondent Patrick McGee got the scoop that information collected by apps through software created by Yandex, Russia’s biggest internet company, is being sent to servers in its home country.

AppMetrica, the software development kit that allows the information transfer, was discovered by researcher Zach Edwards and verified by four independent experts for the Financial Times. It is found in 52,000 apps, including games, messaging apps and location sharing tools, used by hundreds of millions of consumers.

Over 2,000 apps have added the AppMetrica SDK since the invasion of Ukraine began, several apparently designed to track Ukrainian users.

A number of virtual private networks, which have become a basic recommendation for those trying to keep their online activity from compromising their safety, also feature within AppMetrica.

Yandex’s response was that it followed a strict internal process when dealing with governments. Experts have warned that the local laws could oblige Yandex to submit the data to the government or that the metadata collected could be used to identify users.

Years after the Cambridge Analytica scandal moved talk of data harvesting for political purposes from academic discourse to dinner table conversation, the services that we rely on for everything from our entertainment to our directions remain opaque. Their inner workings are revealed only sporadically, thanks to the careful work of researchers and experts.

As geopolitics and technology continue to grow ever more intertwined, the potential security concerns posed by how data is collected by tech companies will continue to grow.

The Internet of (Four) Things

1. Facebook whistleblower says EU legislation must make room for civil society
In an FT op-ed, Frances Haugen calls on European lawmakers to ensure that trusted civil society groups gain access to platform data under the upcoming Digital Services Act. These groups have a long history of offering “SOS alerts” to both companies and policymakers, she says, and giving them access to key data can save lives and enable access to justice.

2. Experts say new EU rules will damage WhatsApp encryption
Corin Faife in The Verge writes that the EU’s Digital Markets Act, its sweeping legislation taking aim at Big Tech, has drawn concern from cryptographers that it may hurt end-to-end encryption. The bill would require large tech “gatekeepers” to create products that are interoperable with smaller platforms — an approach that many experts have warned will probably impact the security and privacy of major messaging apps such as WhatsApp.

3. Advertising gig platform Talenthouse to list in Zurich
As demand for digital content booms, London-headquartered Talenthouse is headed to the Zurich stock exchange, reports Ian Johnston. The platform, which says it offers artists a chance to get their work picked up by major brands, is part of a wider boom in the so-called “passion economy”. Mettle, NatWest’s small business bank, has seen a fivefold jump in users since the start of 2021.

4. PlayStation chief talks potential for games subscription services
In an interview with Christopher Dring at, PlayStation chief executive Jim Ryan explained why it doesn’t launch new first-party games on its PS Plus subscription service at the same time as they come out in retail. The rise of subscription services in gaming reflects a fundamental transformation in the sector, although Ryan says he doesn’t see it reaching the levels of Netflix or Spotify.

Tech tools — Analogue Pocket

For those on the hunt for the bittersweet taste of nostalgia, the Analogue Pocket mimics the classic Game Boy and runs the more than 2,780 original Nintendo games. Unlike its antecedent, it features a matte black or white finish and a crisp resolution thanks to a backlit LCD screen. The Pocket sells for $219, with the next batch of pre-orders scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2022, so prepare for a long wait.

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Source: Financial Times