Privacy 101 or Why You Should Not Use iPhone App Viber

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.

Update: Over the past couple of months, Talmon Marco, Viber’s CEO, did a great job of responding to the concerns I mentioned above and to questions that were posted by users in the comments section of this blog post. Viber changed its privacy policy and did further steps to increase users confidence in their product. I find this behavior by Talmon to be noteworthy and genuine, and I wish Viber success with their product. In terms of their access to your personal data, it is not different than a wealth of other mobile applications (such as WhatsApp) that can access it. Unfortunately, we are entering yet another new era in which, in order to play the social mobile game, we cannot treat our phone’s contact list as private information. I’ll write a blog post about it in the near future.

82 thoughts on “Privacy 101 or Why You Should Not Use iPhone App Viber

  1. Hi
    I found this website to be very useful.
    Al though I haven´t downloaded Viber my girl friend did. Now I'm getting automated calls at least 2-3 times a day from an unknown number promoting Vibers codes and activation. I have no intention of ever using Viber, it will be struck off from me, as I can't for the love of god get these calls to stop!!

    My telephone operator is unable to do any thing as the number calling me is unknown so they cant block it.

    So my comment is this, if any company that uses this type of marketing for their own potential customers and the 2-3 calls a day comes from 1 person registering with them what will it be is more register?

    I'll tell you…. it will be phone hell and I´ll have to give up the number i have worked hard for my clients to know in my business.

    I wont promote other companies but there are better more established options out there! that PLAYS FAIR!

    FRICTIO

    Like

  2. Pingback: Anonymous
  3. It all sounds very kosher to me. What we seem to have here is a company with a long term plan to replace skype (the only thing they have not explicitly stated that they will not charge for is Viber to non-Viber calls á la Skype).

    They are therefore being totally open and honest about everything else in order to build up a clientele.

    Some people see conspiracies everywhere, but I don't think there is one here.

    Well done mr Marco for doing the scary job of actually engaging with your critics.

    Like

  4. I bet the author works for skype. This is the generation of cloud computing. Even skype asks for access to information on your phone, be it android or iphone. Just sue them if they misbehave. When facebook opened to public there were pretty much same issues. Now google+ too. Social media is still growing and people are always paranoid. Be aware, read more. Technology is fun and rewarding if you know how to use it. If you can't trust technology don't use it.

    Like

  5. Dear Talmon,
    Thank you for taking the time to participate in the discussions.
    If I understand you correctly, the Viber service is getting, from my address book, both the names in addition to the phone numbers so that it can show me the name of the caller. I have an alternative solution to this. Please check whether it works and if it doesn't tell us why.
    If your service gets only the phone numbers on my address book (to detect which people are on viber), each time a person calls me the Viber service sends the caller's phone number to my phone and the app (and NOT the service) associates the phone number to the person's name and shows the name to me. Does this work?

    Thanks.
    –Salem

    Like

  6. My brother wants me to install Viber so that he can call me for “free”. I did this and the first thing I was asked was to send my entire phone book to Viber. I’m not really sure that all of this information is mine to upload? Should I ask every person in my phone book for their permission to distribute their phone numbers before using the app? Why can’t I choose which number (i.e. just my brothers) I want to share?

    Like

  7. This app should be banned and all data deleted under government supervision. So this company now has a database of alot of names and their numbers. They are stealing this data from naive people. Lets say I dont want my number listed in public, a friend of mine has my full name and phone number in their phone, viber will get hold of my number and name and sell it to the highest bidder. Or to background check guys…Bloody thiefs

    Like

  8. LOL… this Viber is a piece of sh*t software, someone I know installed it the other day and it sent a SMS to every single one of his contacts including myself hyping up this piece of crap and how great it was for free calls. The odd thing was the SMS was styled in a way as if he had sent it himself, when I asked him what this was about he had no knowledge of sending anything to anyone about Viber, just that he had installed this P.O.S….but Viber obviously thought they should let all his contacts know anyway. Any NO Viber fanboys… i don't work for Skype or any other company in competition with this. I would rather use Google Voice or even Skype in comparison to this Spy-ware.

    Like

  9. Why not just allow an opt-out for the reading of the contact list, and allow people to manually add individual contacts *if they wish to do it that way*. The automatic adding of contacts from your address book by Viber is a nice service, but not a necessary service. If you are honest, then allow an opt-out.

    Like

  10. Pingback: Anonymous
  11. hey !! talamon ?! i would like to ask you what is the benifet your company gain from giving a free call and text message dont you think it just like go in vein ?? evry company follow the money ?? what is your purpose from free call with no gain to your company or else ??

    Like

  12. In this era of communications one van not hide anything. Considerjng this.fact one should not be worried about such privacy issues. To.me it seems to be more brand war instead of a privacy issue

    Like

  13. Some people I don't know how but are actually texting me on viber and asking me what's my name bla bla bla….i'm so irritated with these unknown people saying they gort my numbers of viber…:(

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s