Aviate

Storing your location and installed apps in plain text is at issue here, not collecting that data in the first place

A lot of fuss is being made about the Aviate launcher the past couple days, with things hitting a fever pitch today. Besides the endless requests for invite codes on every social media site known to modern man, it's come to light that the launcher is sharing the data it collects on you with the world. Sort of.

Let's back up a tad. Aviate is a launcher that reconfigures itself — the apps it thinks you need to see right this second — depending on where you are. It's been in private beta for a while, and opened up to more users this week.

The to-do is that your location and list of installed apps are available via a publicly accessible API — but only if you know your unique device identifier. That's not good, but it's not necessarily the end of the world, either.

The good news is that Aviate has said this is something they are fixing, and have made it a top priority. (Update: Looks like the web access has been killed, as promised.) In the meantime, here's what you need to know if you're going to use the app.

Source: +Arvid Gerstmann (1), (2)

permissions

You read the permissions when you installed Aviate, right?

First, let's tackle the data collection. The main points of contention seem to be that the folks at Aviate track which apps you have installed and use — kind of an important thing for a launcher to know — and your precise location via longitude and latitude coordinates. I'm not sure why this surprises (or outrages) everyone, because it needs both these things to do what the app does. And both of these things are declared in the app's list of permissions. In fact, let's have a look at the long list of permissions. As you can see, Aviate asks to do everything except borrow your car. 

  • Your accounts
  • create accounts and set passwords
  • read Google service configuration
  • find accounts on the device
  • Your location
  • precise location (GPS and network-based)
  • Network communication
  • full network access
  • view Wi-Fi connections
  • view network connections
  • receive data from Internet
  • connect and disconnect from Wi-Fi
  • Your personal information
  • read calendar events plus confidential information
  • Phone calls
  • read phone status and identity
  • Storage
  • modify or delete the contents of your USB storage
  • System tools
  • mock location sources for testing
  • read Home settings and shortcuts
  • write Home settings and shortcuts
  • send sticky broadcast
  • modify system settings
  • test access to protected storage
  • Your applications information
  • retrieve running apps
  • Bluetooth
  • pair with Bluetooth devices
  • access Bluetooth settings
  • Affects Battery
  • prevent device from sleeping
  • control vibration
  • Alarm
  • set an alarm
  • Sync Settings
  • read sync settings
  • toggle sync on and off
  • Wallpaper
  • set wallpaper
  • adjust your wallpaper size

Aviate sorts your apps into categories and pages based on time of day, or where you are. When you're at work, you have a work screen with productivity apps. When you're at home, you have entertainment-based apps like Netflix on your screen. Aviate needs to know what apps you have installed — and where you are — to do this. Aviate also makes it very clear in the permissions that the app will be collecting this, and more. If we want an application that shows us apps based on where we are and what we're doing, the app needs to know where we are and what apps we have installed.

If the location and installed apps list wasn't in plain text, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

This isn't "spying," because you asked Aviate to do it when you installed the app.

The way Aviate stores and transmit this data, on the other hand, is worth questioning.

If you visit a URL at Aviate's site using your device ID, you get a plain-text listing of your location and installed apps. The URL, for those who want to check, is http://www.getaviate.com/search/api/v3/devices/DEVICEID. You can find your device ID in the system's logcat file, or find it by clicking on the "Help" button in the app. Click here for an example if this is all over your head. The issue is two-fold:

  • Anyone with a web browser can see your data if they know your unique ID
  • Anyone sniffing traffic can see your data because it's in plain text

There is no reasonable excuse for Aviate to do things this way. While your device ID isn't exactly easy to guess, another application developer can get access to it with just a few lines of code. Do you want someone to have the exact location where you — or your kids — sleep every night? I don't.

The Aviate app isn't my cup of tea, and I tried and quickly uninstalled it anyway. But there's a lot of traction behind it, and for a lot of people it does the things they want. The developers have to get this mess straightened out, and soon. They may not be spying on you, but they are sharing the information you gave them with everyone else. 

 

Reader comments

Aviate isn't 'spying' on anyone, it's just being sloppy with your data

66 Comments

The plain-text listing on the Aviate web site seems to be gone. Using your example URL, I just get a blank page. I tried my own device ID and got the same thing.

like they said it wont make any difference uninstall it the information is on there server and will stay

Yeah, I just tried it and uninstalled it too. If I had to pick one to do, I would go with everything.me to Aviate. This just makes me more thankful I decided to uninstall it. haha

Still hoping to get an invite. Looks amazing!
Atst44 (at) Hotmail (dot) com
In case someone feels like being awesome!

"The sheep won't even need a chip implanted--they'll carry it around like status symbol." – JAFOAgain

AHHHH THEY'RE GOING TO SEE MY APPS AND THEN HUNT ME DOWN AND PUT THEY'RE PP IN MY BUM!

Sorry but I don't think it's a big deal. Everyone is so concerned about their private information but yet at the same time they use Facebook daily. Not even to get started on checking in at places.

Posted via Android Central App

Exactly, with this you have to pretty technical and you had to give the app permission in the first place.

Posted via Droid RAZR M on the Android Central App

Still, all seven people using this launcher should be made aware.

Excusing privacy holes one at a time seems to be a tendency for Jerry.
Each one is no big deal. So no problem, right?

What do you think lead to the Facebook Mindset?
Why do you think that more and more people are sanitizing their facebook accounts? Even teenagers are getting wise.

I actually laughed out loud at the "all seven people" comment. Sincerely thought it was a good line.

However, I didn't see Jerry excuse any privacy holes here. He explicitly stated that the lack of securely storing your private information was bad, but that the company wasn't being unscrupulous by "spying" to get that information in the first place.

This is a voluntary sharing of information with Aviate.

When you give permission, you are responsible. PERIOD.

I don't care if an app sends your Visa card number to China. If you said that was OK, it's your own damn fault. They call that personal responsibility.

with all due respect - sometimes these apps/sites slip in these questionable privacy permissions in such a way that it is difficult for a layman or non-techie to see or recognize. and then you have companies like Facebook - who hide the settings under layers of a confusing byzantine style system menu - and even worse - they keep constantly changing/adding to the permissions/settings/controls. i'm all for personal responsibility - but some of these apps/sites really make it difficult (on purpose or not) to see WTF you're signing up for and signing away. i consider myself relatively technically savvy (but i'm no Jerry) and i have difficulty looking at many apps permissions and figuring out what's kosher and what's not. many times it comes down to trust - do i trust the developer? - and admittedly - that's not a great policy! i'm not saying they do it on purpose - but sloppy or malevolent are both bad - because the end result is the same - bad!

p.s. it's funny to see - even after this - the sheep are still asking for invites on this very thread! ha!

Assuming someone has my device id they learn what? Where I am and what apps I've used? Who cares? The person standing next to me knows where I am and if he looks over my shoulder at my phone he can see what app I'm using. So what?

Obviously, this information needs to be encrypted but it blows my mind that folks who live in a country where your name, address and phone number was published in a book that was dropped regularly on everyone's doorstep AND where you had to pay the phone company to not divulge that information complain about innocuous information getting out. We may live in an over-share culture but we also live in an over-paranoid culture.

Google needs to tell people WHAT those permissions mean. Plain and simple. They got a little better, then they stopped.

This isn't something the developers can fix, because some pretty tame permissions are lumped in with some very scary ones. Ask for one, you get both.

Sorry, that's not nearly enough. We need to be able to control permissions, not just see what they are. Like Blackberry.

The sad fact today is that if you don't install any apps with questionable permissions, you won't have any apps.

This post pretty much contradicts your prior post that puts the whole burden on the person who installed the app.

If you went through your phone and rigorously evaluated permissions and deleted any app that (for sake of argument) had access to your phone calls, or your contacts, you would be left with nothing on your phone.

Often the developer will tell you that the only reason they need to access your phone calls is to save your game progress, or stop making sounds when a call comes in. But we don't really know that do we? And if we trust that developer, (why the hell should we), we then assume all apps that say they can access your phone calls are doing it for the same reason. Are they?

You don't get a choice on bloatware.
But you don't get a choice on most apps either.

Look at an app that everyone has, Lookout. Why can this thing send email to my contacts without my permission? Why should it get to modify my calendar, and send emails to calendar event guests?

Its a forced choice, you buy a phone, and by doing so you surrender far more information than you intended. You can't use the phone for the purpose it was intended, without giving up more than you bargained for.
You buy and app and again same camels nose under the tent.

Its fine and dandy to make a blanket statement that you installed it so it must be your fault, and that sounds authoritative, but its really false in the real world.

There was something I read here on AC about a coming capability to retroactively go in and strip some access away from apps. If the apps then fail, well so be it. But my Lookout app has no business sending email to anyone but me. Thats what I assumed it needed email for. That's all that was mentioned when I installed it.

So, explain how the choice was taken away to not install an app because you don't like the permissions?

Explain why you somehow can't disable applications that have permissions you don't like, when every one else can.

Not understanding is the reason to NOT install, not to install anyway and pretend it was someone else's fault. Google's less-than-informative way they tell permissions should only lead to less applications being installed because people do not understand. If people do not understand and install anyway, that's their choice and responsibility.

Saying "you don't have a choice" is bullshit. You always have a choice, even though it may not be one you like.

Lookout needs permission to send mail on your behalf to report issues to them. Because they will have access to that function, the app could also send information to your contacts, including information about other contacts. To be Exchange compatible, calendar events can be sent from the contacts application. You can stop this from happening by removing Exchange compatibility, or by not allowing bug reports or malware data to be sent to Lookout, or by not installing and/or disabling the Lookout app.

An iPhone works the same way. So does a Windows phone. So does a BlackBerry, though they have to be able to enforce BES restrictions and permissions can be revoked at the risk of applications not working — like not being able to contact Lookout from the app if you don't feel safe with calendar entries being exposed, and having an app that does not work as intended.

The difference is Google tells us during the install process — but only half the story. The above is why. It's damn near impossible to cover every possible scenario of why an application needs/wants a certain permission. They should be able to figure it out, because they pay some really good people a whole lot of money to figure things out. In the meantime, it is the developers who should be suffering over it if people bother to read what they are installing. Instead, people just click away. That's good for developers, but not so much for the users.

I've been talking to you on and off in these comments for what, about 3 years now? I know you get this. I know Google could make it very easy for you to understand this. But some people need a lot of spoon-feeding with this sort of thing. Google needs to get out some spoons.

tl;dr — Read it. Understand before you click. If you click anyway, it's your fault. If you don't click and a dev doesn't get paid, it's Google's fault.

 

Some people will just refuse to accept that they are even partly responsible for anything... apparently it's much easier to blame the big bad software companies than admit an oversight.

Keep up the good work Jerry, it isn't wasted on all of us.

I agree with you Jerry. If you give permission you are responsible. This is why it would be nice for androidcentral to actually "teach" responsibility. For example, when you review apps, you could make it a staple to evaluate app permissions, break down why an app needs what, and be more critical when permissions are overly permissible. Sometimes this comes up, but I think it might be a good idea to be more systematic about it.

I don't remember reading about storing personal information in plain text in the permissions. Also never read about sending CC info in any app.
So what is your point, we are responsible for stupid or criminal acts by developers?

The point is you agreed to share that info with them. They can use it anyway they see fit because you shared it. What if they aren't upstanding devs or the best stewards of your info? Doesn't matter you accepted the permissions and you installed the FREE app.

Personal responsibility.

Posted via Android Central App

The point is you agreed to share that info with them. They can use it anyway they see fit because you shared it. What if they aren't upstanding devs or the best stewards of your info? Doesn't matter you accepted the permissions and you installed the FREE app.

Personal responsibility.

Posted via Android Central App

I dont think this is a big deal at all, it asked me for permission to update, I read it and updated, its definitely not spying.

And if someone really wanted to know your location for something bad they would figure out a way to do it anyways.

BTW I have invites to give if somebody wants one just reply something really creative.

Posted via Android Central App

I'm in the need of some new stalkers, an invite would save me some time. Email my gmail account: liquidswords

Thanks!

I would like to try out this launcher. Could you shoot me an invite my man? Pretty please? LOL

youngunn2008 at gmail dot com

Posted via Android Central App

Hey,

I wanted to fly but they didn't let me, I thought I'd sail but didn't have the dough, just my luck but what do I owe?

I can't be Orville or Wilbur Wright, nor be known as the inventor of flight, from my twisted path I can deviate, if Mr. Velasquez invites me to Aviate!!

centaur31 at gmail dot com.

Thanks for the invite, and for giving me flight!!

I dont think this is a big deal at all, it asked me for permission to update, I read it and updated, its definitely not spying.

And if someone really wanted to know your location for something bad they would figure out a way to do it anyways.

BTW I have invites to give if somebody wants one just reply something really creative.

Posted via Android Central App

I tried it as well to see what the buzz is about. Uninstalled it after a couple of minutes. It's OK, but not for me.

agreed. i'm a control freak. and i don't want these momos constantly changing my home screen. how annoying.

Anyone else have an invite they want to share? Rsanso427( at) gmail (dot) com

Posted via Android Central App

Privacy is something that should never be taken lightly. Fact of the matter is many people are quite cavalier when it comes to how they conduct business online. While some may not use Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc., they may install applications like this if they feel it serves a greater good.

Take away the FUD about this news story and you have a developer that released an application for Android in which information was not handled properly. Because it was in plain-text, anyone with the right access could get information on you. Sure, this "access" may have been open to a privileged few that are savvy enough to find your ID and visit the site. However, that should not have ever been a concern. Yes, take my information in order to make an intelligent app that is designed to help me. But no, DO NOT take this data and improperly store it where people with the desire and know how can just go ahead and rob me blind.

If people really want to gain unfettered access to your personal information, they will uncover a way to do so. It may be costly, time intensive and full of risk - but that is only because the reward in doing so outweighs the negative aspects. I expect to encounter situations where either my personal information was compromised due to my error or a breach of security. This is why I use two-step authentication. This is why I pay for a business account with Google in the event I need further support. This is why I have my original account setup information printed and locked away in a safe deposit box should I ever be locked out of my account.

You can't tell me the worst scenarios don't happen. Sometimes I need protection from the world I live in, but at times I need protection from myself as well. When a company takes trust (misplaced or otherwise) you have put on them with your information and tosses it out the window, someone needs to be held accountable. Sending my credit card number to China? Unlikely. But to someone who socially engineered a "hack" by posing as a debt collector - that's happened before to my wife. Luckily $250 can be made up for working additional hours.

The second you step out of your house, privacy goes out the window. And yes, getting online IS stepping out of your house.

I don't just want apps to declare what permissions it needs.

I want apps to give a DETAILED usage of why it needs that permission.

(i.e. SMS Permission = Read text messages (and scan them on our servers to identify when you might possibly need the information).

Posted via Android Central Beta Tablet App!
Hisense Sero 7 Pro

Boy, there sure are a lot of highly sought after people on AC. Hate to bare the bad news...but take it from someone who's spent years in prison, the only criminals worried about where your location is are murderers.

Criminals want social security numbers, credit card numbers are real personal information they can sell or benefit from.. Not what apps you have installed. Address it and get over it. You aren't that important.

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I agree with Jerry, and I myself, would like specific info about the permissions needed and why they are needed. I too, installed Aviate and quickly uninstalled. It just wasn't for me. Shoot, sometimes with New Updates, come new riskier permissions. No thank you. I'll be fine with previous versions unless they completely affect the app.

Oh, to the gentleman who spent time behind bars, it's not the apps they want, it's the information the apps can put out. Read peoples' previous comments.

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I have a book with thousands of phone numbers and addresses where tens of thousands of people AND their kids live. I get a new copy every year for free. :)

Used the app for a few days now and it isn't all it cracked up to be. Keeps detecting the wrong location. Is cumbersome to find the app you need since it seems mis-categorise my apps. I have invites left but to be honest... I wouldn't recommend it just now. I've uninstalled it.

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