In the past couple of days, a free-calls iPhone app called viber is being praised around the interwebs (Techcrunch coverage here). It’s basically a Skype-like application, yet no skype ID is needed – it connects to your iPhone’s address book, and automatically finds your friends who are connected to the service. In this process (which is required by the application to operate), your whole address book is being sent to Viber’s servers and kept there (From their privacy statement: “A copy of your address book will be stored on our servers and will be used to…”). They now know practically every detail of your phone book. Even more, their privacy agreement states that they collect and log all your phone calls, and may share your personal data with 3rd parties they “trust”.
So, you would say, isn’t that a reasonable price to pay for free phone calls?
Well, not if you dig a bit deeper. Viber was founded by the same guys who started early peer-to-peer file sharing app iMesh (just like Skype, who was founded by the same guys that wrote p2p app Kazaa). Now, iMesh, besides offering users an easy way to share music and videos, was trying hard to make money as a company. And how do companies of spooky nature make money? You guessed right – by bundling the application with a bunch of spyware apps whose removal would usually require a good anti-spyware app.
Viber was founded by Israelis (although no data on the founders or management team can be found on Viber’s website, a pretty strange phenomena in the startup world). Most Israeli startups are incorporated either in Delaware (which is the state of choice for incorporating most US startups as well due to convenient corporate laws) or in Israel. Viber, for some odd reason, was incorporated in Cyprus, a location favored by offshore gambling operations.
So, will you give away all your contact lists and call logs to guys who made money from spyware distribution? Hell you shouldn’t. I’d rather pay a bit more in monthly phone bills, or just continue using Skype (which although created by hackers, has proven to play fair over the years, to the extent they were eventually acquired by a legit company, eBay).
Update: The WSJ just published an interesting article about how your mobile apps are spying on you. Worth a read.