02/07/2015 8:14 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Now On Tap: Why You Shouldn't Leak Too Much To Google's Latest Feature


Google's latest offering to the world, Now on Tap, promises to be a game changer for smartphone users. A seemingly simple app that practically "reads" all that is there on your screen and provides more information based on the content. Hail contextual search! This feature works across apps, emails, texts or music platforms. While this may seem awesome for the regular smartphone user and almost orgasmic for a hard-core developer, it is a potential time bomb as far as data security and user privacy are concerned. Imagine a prying eye monitoring you as you scan through all your bank statements or financial transactions. I am sure most of us are Not OK with this, Google. This does not stop just here. The more critical enterprise data too is laid bare and at a greater risk, especially since most mobile users and enterprise workforce still have Android-based devices.

The enterprise dilemma

For entrepreneurs, CIOs and data guardians, Google's latest creation can be a pain in the wrong place for all the right reasons. With employees often using personal mobile devices for enterprise use, the thought of an app scanning business emails, excel sheets and shared documents and storing them in its monstrous databases is downright scary. While this may seem to be a bit of a paranoid reaction since Now on Tap does not work unless and until it is explicitly opted in and tapped on to work, it is still a risk. It is so easy for someone to hit the "Home" button by mistake and leave it open while working.

"With employees often using personal mobile devices for enterprise use, the thought of an app scanning business emails, excel sheets and shared documents and storing them in its monstrous databases is downright scary."

Also, while Google does claim that they are "looking into" ways so that apps can mark specific data as sensitive and hence not support Now on Tap, it is still undecided and it's anybody's guess as to how it would eventually end up. With no clear security guidelines, enterprise data and apps are always under the threat of being monitored.

With Android's notoriety as the favourite target for hackers, what if there is a malicious app that works exactly like the Now on Tap cards every time you tap into it and keeps collecting all your personal and enterprise data? Also, for now, while Now on Tap is planned to be a part of Android M and as a fully opt-in feature, it could very well change to an opt-out option in the future versions. For example, Google's recent integration of Gmail & Google+ saw Google+ users being able to send messages to your Gmail even without your email id. While you can opt out of this, the default is set to opting in. How many of us even know this?

Data integration: The dark temptation

Google's foray into multiple domains and acquisitions further increases the chances of acquiring and merging data from different services. For example, Google's acquisition of home automation pioneers Nest gives it a chance to tap into the massive database of Nest's users and specific data about people, their homes, their devices and appliances. While Nest does have clearly defined privacy policies that restrict them from sharing data with Google, there can be a situation where simple product enhancements can open up Nest's data chest for Google. What is Nest today, can be Now on Tap tomorrow. User data is always vulnerable with no one having any control on how and where it may be used, eventually.

Over the last few years, Google has made a shift - from being an information dispensing platform to becoming your digital personal assistant who tells you what you need to do next, how to reach your destination, when do you need to leave for work and what's around you. In every step, it is collecting more and more personal data to deliver contextually aware answers to users' spoken or unspoken queries. Just pause and think about it for a minute. Why should we, as users, be open to sharing our most private bits of information to a global corporation that has the power to create military-grade killer robots?

A shield called Custom ROM

While, services like Now on Tap still have time to become fully operational for the man on the street, Android has this funny way of acting up on you, so you never know. For discerning Android users, opting for a custom ROM can be a truly fool-proof way to keep personal and enterprise data secure from all the bloatware that vanilla Android dishes out. So next time if Google tries to install Now on Tap, a custom ROM can verify, alert and give you more control over its usage across apps and services.

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