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A Privacy Idea For Apple And Google: Improved Access Control For Contacts

Apps have long exploited the use of users’ contacts for data mining purposes, and as a result — several app vendors know everyone you talk to, even people who you only briefly contact but which aren’t friends (for example: contractors, stores, co-workers, and the list goes on). That’s a massive amount of private data. Unfortunately, some apps (for example: WhatsApp) won’t let you set an alias for each friend based on your phone number. You’ll have to provide access to all of your contacts before you can actually see the name of who you’re talking to instead of just a number.

iOS and Android’s all or none contacts permission needs to be updated so that you can select specific contacts to provide apps with access to — just like how iOS does it with photos. It would be simple to let the user choose if they want to provide access to all contacts or just the ones they select. It would also mean that you’d only have to share the contacts that you are actually talking to on WhatsApp (about 4 out of over 100 contacts in my case) or Signal for example — this is likely a mere fraction of your contacts.

Such a feature would also help to curb the incentive to demand access to users’ contacts for things like sending invitations. This is because many users would most likely only provide access to the ones that are needed. iOS 14.5’s App Tracking Transparency showed that when given the option to allow or reject cross-app tracking — 96% of users rejected it.

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