Emoji and Keyboard Mobile Security

My wife and I have become big fans of a social app named “BitMojii”.  It’s been a really fun way to break up the monotony of “xoxox” and “<3” we text to each other during our time apart.  The custom comic maker BitStrips has been around a while and now they are now a major player in the Emoji explosion. The app facilitates the creation of custom Emoji you can text your love ones. “Famous” celebrities and franchises have risen to the demand for even more ways to graphically communicate. Apple plans on increasing their lot of default emoji with the release of IOS10. And nearly every social media platform have facilitated Emoji.

Over the years, texting has become more “efficient”. First came the acronyms like LOL and IMO, then words were shortened (U, 2, IC, ). Emoticons gave us a quick and easy way to smile or frown, but they weren’t very sexy. Developers on some platforms wrote code to replace your “:)” with a happy face. But Emoji are emoticons on steroids.  It would seem that these little graphics are on the verge of replacing our limited use of words at all in our texts. Thankfully Siri helps us text complete words without having to type at all.

A plethora of Emoji, but at what price?

Two years ago, with the introduction of IOS8, Apple officially gave developers access to create custom keyboards. The Emoji are of course contained w/in your keyboard too. In that process, Apple opened up “Full Access” through the keyboard. “Full Access” means it can read any data contained within your phone. The keyboard may get your Geo-location, it may look at your contact list or it may find out what other apps you have installed.

Web companies love to analyze any kind of information they can on you. The want to know things like: “How often do you use my app? When do you use it? What do you do when you use it?”

Be fully aware that a keyboard or Emoji app has the potential to monitor everything you type (and the pictures you text) and send it back to their servers for “data analysis”. While Apple kindly asks developers NOT to do this, there is really nothing that can prevent this practice. We as consumers have to simply TRUST our app companies to keep their promises.

In the case of Bitmoji, they need full access to configure your custom avatar into the graphic. Thankfully, Apple does give you a nice warning for any app that wants full access:

 

So I can’t state this strongly enough: If you use a custom keyboard or an application that works through your keyboard, BE AWARE OF WHAT YOU TYPE. Use the default keyboard if you need to communicate personal information.

To deny an app full access without uninstalling the app:

  1. Go to Settings >> General >> Keyboard >> Keyboards. Apps that use the keyboard will be listed.
  2. Select the app and check for “Allow Full Access”. You can toggle the settings for each app.

A good article for more details on IOS keyboard security can be found here.

Happy and safe typing!

— Rick

Author: Rick Wiley

Rick is a 5x Dad, Husband, Web Developer, Net Security Nut and all around old geek.

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