New York Times App Tries to Invade My Privacy

I have to admit that sometimes I'm not as careful about personal security as I should be. For instance, when I'm tired or very busy, I'll occasionally "agree" to installation agreements without pausing and spending the next half hour pouring through several pages of legalese -- even though I know I should. Or I'll install an app on my Android smartphone even though it may ask for some rather puzzling permissions. And I doubt I'm the only one.

However, even I was brought up a bit short today when I hit the Request for Permission box offered by the New York Times to those who want to send links to their articles to Facebook.

I was using the NYTimes Chrome app -- a way to read the daily news which is unusually well formatted and which I enjoy using whenever I can. I had just finished an article I thought was interesting and which, I decided, I'd like to post to my Facebook news feed.

When I want to send a link to a Web page via e-mail, or post it on Facebook or Twitter, I usually use a handy and effective app called Shareaholic, which grabs the URL, lets you add any appropriate text or tweaks, and then sends it on to the service you've specified. However, this time, noting the Facebook link at the bottom of the NY Times article page, I thought I might as well use a more direct method and clicked on that.

What popped up was a Request for Permission window that was so blatant in its demands for full access to multiple aspects of my online life that I had to read it a couple of times to make sure I had it right.

Basically, the NY Times wanted to (and I quote):

Access my basic information. Includes name, profile picture, networks, user ID, list of friends, and any other information I've shared with everyone.

Send me email. The New York Times may email me directly at [myemail.com]

Access my data any time. The New York Times may access my data when I'm not using the application

Access my profile information. Likes, Music, TV, Movies, Books, Quotes, About Me, Interests, Groups, Birthday, Hometown, Current City, Website, Education History and Work History.

Under that was the statement that "Use of this data is subject to the The New York Times Privacy Policy" with a link to that policy. But by that time, I didn't much care. All this simply so that I could send an interesting article to a bunch of friends?

I understand that the NY Times is planning to start charging readers for access to its digital access. And until now, I was planning to subscribe, assuming the cost wasn't excessive -- I know how difficult it is for publications these days to support themselves, and I value the type of journalism that the Times represents.

But judging from the amount of information the Times apparently plans to harvest, the data it gathers from its readers will probably earn it a lot more from its advertisers than the few dollars a month it will get from subscriptions. Unfortunately, this is not the kind of price I'd prefer to pay.

And it brings up another question: Is the amount of data the Times wants to access really unusual? Or is it simply being more open in what it wants to take in trade for the convenience of sending a headline to Facebook?

"Our readers' privacy is very important to us, and so we took great care to implement the Log In with Facebook feature in a transparent way--outlining what information would be shared and requiring readers to opt in," said Kristin Mason, spokesperson for the New York Times.‪

"Primarily, the data is required to build a basic registration for the user and to allow the Facebook module to display current recommendations from users and their Facebook friends. The information also allows us to deliver better advertising and ultimately it helps us to build better and more customized products to serve our users," Mason said. "For those users who prefer not to share this data, we offer other options for sharing, including Twitter and e-mail."

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