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Pokemon Go mania in UAE: Be wary of compromising online privacy

Telecom regulator warns residents on the dangers of revealing location and identity in smartphone games

Image Credit: AP
Experts warn that games such as Pokemon Go could compromise the privacy of users.
Gulf News

Dubai: In the wake of the warning issued by the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) to residents on the security alert about sharing their geographical locations playing online games, cyber security experts have some suggestions for the public. It is fine to share the location of the player, they said, but it is important to keep one’s identity concealed.

With the use of Android devices and iPhones having become a way of life for people, revealing their locations is an easy consequence, said experts. People often check into a place and announce their arrival on Facebook, which is considered trendy, and use Google maps for navigation. All of these cannot be possible without location.

A frequent speaker on cyber security issues, Professor Fadi Aloul, from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the American University of Sharjah (AUS), told Gulf News: “I want to make it clear that sharing location is advantageous as long as the identity of the individual is not revealed. When you use Google maps, you are sharing your location with Google servers and they use your speed and other parameters to update on Google traffic to tell people about possible traffic congestions. Similarly, when you share your location with a mall authority, they are able to trace footfalls and use that data for reviewing rents of shops in that section. I know of a company which installs a small app on your phone that can detect the signal of the mobile service provider you are using. This is a very important feedback to the service provider giving them information on where they need to install signal boosters or towers. Parents provide their children phones to be able to know their location at all times, but this information should not be shared with anyone else. The identity of the child must not be revealed at any time with the location,” added Professor Aloul.

Professor Aloul said that people were willingly giving away their location in order to use the information on Google servers free of charge. “There are three things that can be done to exploit this information: the risk of having a theft at your home while you are out; possible harassment by someone who intends to exploit your isolation; and stalking by a dangerous antisocial element.”

Farrukh Naeem Qadri, a social media expert, said there was always an issue of a trade-off when an individual wanted increased functionality on one’s phone. “We are living in a world where our mobile phones are no longer phones but smart devices that are not only used as remote controls but through apps we are able to do many things such as find locations, share pictures, play games, among other things. Users must draw a line as to how much personal data they are willing to reveal and apps must make it clear at the time of installation how they will use these permissions and the data they access.”

How to practise due diligence?

Qadri offers tips: Most of the time there are safeguards on your device and operating systems and use of these can avoid security breaches.

1. Always keep whatever operating system you use — iOS or Android — updated. Click on the auto update option.

2. Use apps from reliable companies only. Apps have to go through an approval process at Apple store, Google Play and Google Store. It is better to install the apps from the ecosystem you are using.

3. Apps in major stores have ratings and before installing, examine the response of the people to know if it has any security issues.

4. Evaluate whether an app requires all the data it is asking for at the time of installation. We usually do a quick look and say yes. But you need to scroll through it properly. For example, if an app meant to edit photographs asks permission to access your contacts or microphone or credit card, you have the choice to disable or not choose it at all. Assess your reasons for the app and proceed.

5. Switch off your location or disable it when you do not require it. Most apps cannot work without location accuracy. For instance, snapchat uses Geo location filter or for live GPS navigation on Google Apps, you need to disclose your location. Always keep your location off unless you need navigation. Do the same with your Google accounts. In the settings, disable location tracking and history. In case of Pokemon, for example, people initially gave access to the game developer to the entire google account and data. Later on, a new update 1.01 was released wherein you were not required to give the data. Then you need to use the new update, take away that information and log out, and log in again so that the data is out.

6 Change passwords frequently.

7. Do not use common passwords for multiple accounts because if one is hacked, your passwords for others are also compromised.

9, Choose the option to not give multiple access to any app.

TRA issues warning
about online games

The UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has warned all smart mobile and device users about playing online games that request their geographical locations, which could be used against them for criminal activities.

The warning was issued in the light of the growing popularity of online games, especially Pokemon Go, which invades the privacy of users and allows criminal elements like hackers to spy on them and know when they are in isolated places.

The TRA explained that using these virtual-reality games with geo-positioning technology, such as the new Pokemon Go game, can result in the invasion of user privacy, as well as being victim to criminal software, phishing software and malware that clones games.

The TRA also warned people against illegal downloads of these games. Illegal software and applications can cause damage to smartphones’ operating systems, or be used for spying on its users.

Eng. Mohammad Al Zarouni, TRA Director of Policy and Programmes Department, said, “Some of these virtual reality games depend on new geo-positioning technology to track the locations of users and tap into their smart phone cameras, which makes the privacy of users open to predators.”

Adel Al Muhairi, Manager, National Computer Emergency Response Team, TRA, stated, “The engrossment of users into these games could possibly lead them to unknown places where criminals [wait]. These games could also cause injury if used while driving or walking. The proper use of virtual reality technology offers many beneficial features and advantages, yet, if it is not used correctly, it could have negative repercussions.”

He called on parents to join their children in discovering these new tech games to learn more about them so they can evaluate the dangers. He also asked people to avoid using the camera options for these games, especially while at home.

He encouraged parents to decide on what games are appropriate for the age groups of their children.

There have been recent reports from around the world about a number of armed robberies carried out because of the geo-positioning features in these games.

— WAM

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