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July 29, 2016

Small Number of SwiftKey Users Discover App Leaked Private Data to Strangers

by John_A

A week after launching a new emoji-predicting keyboard, SwiftKey is now facing some pushback after a few users noticed that the main SwiftKey app was propagating suggestions related to the email accounts, phone numbers, and names of complete strangers (via The Telegraph). The Microsoft-owned app, available on iOS and Android, is widely known for its artificial intelligence and machine learning tools, which create custom word predictions based on what each user has previously typed.

In order to fully take advantage of these features, SwiftKey accesses various personal bits of information — previous texts, emails, and regularly used names and phrases — to bolster its database, with a synchronization feature that keeps all of a user’s data updated across various devices. Now, one SwiftKey user has discovered that someone unknown to them was given access to this data thanks to the app’s predictive features. Thankfully, the stranger was helpful in informing the compromised user about their privacy slip.

“A few days ago, I received an email from a complete stranger asking if I had recently purchased and returned a particular model of mobile phone, adding that not one but two of my email addresses (one personal and one work address) were saved on the phone she had just bought as brand-new,” said the user. “It also suggested, when she typed a zero, the telephone number for someone I had phoned recently.”

According to the anonymous source, the stranger went through every letter in the alphabet and got predictive suggestions of the affected user’s contact list and even the address of private servers used to connect to the internet at their workplace. A similar occurrence happened for one Redditor recently, but this time it crossed a language barrier as well, with German predictions of private information suggested for a user in the United Kingdom.

According to SwiftKey, the problem stems from a bug in that synchronization feature, so the company has deactivated syncing information across devices until it can get to the root of the problem. A spokesperson for the company said, “Recently, a limited number of our customers noticed unexpected words pre-populating when typing on their mobile phone,” but promised users that the app is “okay to use” in the meantime given the low number of users affected and that their personal data will not be lost while the sync ability is down.

Tag: SwiftKey
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