As I read this post on a British website Metro, I thought I would definitely check out n-gage messenger, a new app that is pitched as one of the most privacy-minded apps there is. According to its description, it’s a safe harbor designed from ground up to protect its users from cyber predators that engage in revenge porn, and other scary stuff.
Being a privacy paranoid, I was very excited to get my hands on the new app. Also, after the PRISM files leak courtesy of Edward Snowden, I formed a new habit of reading Privacy Policies of apps, to which I intend to entrust my private data. My enthusiasm quickly changed to doubt, doubt to frustration. Is it yet another case of opportunistic PR riding the privacy wave? You decide.
Some things don’t click
The first thing that nagged me was the extensive app permissions n-gage messenger requested, at which point I knew I would not be using it for my daily messaging needs, but would install it for the sake of this review.
The second thing that utterly bugged me was the need to register my phone number, which in and of itself is counter-private. Private messengers do not collect personally identifiable information. This is one reason WhatsApp will never be private, on top of everything else that’s wrong with it.
- n-gage messenger collects, stores and uses your Personal Information, Location Data, Log Data, Non-Personal Information, Sensitive Personal Information and Shared Information.
- After you delete your account, n-gage messenger keeps and uses your data for ten whopping years. You know, to send you and your friends stuff to maybe make you change your mind and get back to the services again.
- n-gage messenger syncs all your contacts with its servers on a regular basis to track and monitor users and non-users, and the moment you sign up it may send your contacts a text message on your behalf urging them to join n-gage. Note: if you have synced several accounts with your device, the contacts and other data of those accounts will be synced with n-gage servers, so it’s not just your device’s Contacts book we’re talking about.
- Your interests, as well as any information about you shared by your contacts is also collected and stored.
- n-gage messenger collects “device settings, time zone, network service provider information and IP address, software and hardware utilized in conjunction with n-gage App and the Site” such as “device PIN, IMEI, IMSI, UDID, MAC address or similar identifiers, and device model.”
- Anonymous user data n-gage collects includes “referring / exit pages and URLs, platform types, asset views, clickstream data and includes Personal Information in aggregated, anonymised or pseudoanonymised form.”
- All the above in conjunction with the personally identifiable information will be analyzed and shared with partners and affiliates in order to send you targeted ads and relevant content from affiliates.
- You also agree to let the app track your IP, physical location and location history. That one you can opt out from, check your device’s settings to banish the app from tracking your location. This could affect certain features. Although, not sure if you can disable it all “GPS, WiFi, LAN, cell phone tower locations accelerometer or other similar satellite services or sensors in Your mobile and computer devices.”
- Needless to say the app keeps your metadata, which means it knows who you’re talking to, where you are and your recipient is, when and how often you talk, the metadata of your sent multimedia files that can contain location and time, you get the idea.
- n-gage collects log data, which includes web beacons, cookies and other data like device settings, mobile carrier, device make and model, device orientation, OS version, amount of memory, and even battery percentage.
- Your searches while you are using the app.
- Sensitive information n-gage collects and uses includes anything that can reveal your race, ethnic origin, political opinions, religious beliefs, memberships in trade unions, health conditions, sexual life details, offenses and the like – that is if you choose to share that information via n-gage.
This paragraph is stellar and defines the very crux of the service:
“Please consider carefully what You post and communicate through our services. Do not submit and share information that You would not want to be viewed publicly and globally. Any information You share will be at Your own risk. In some instances, You may control what access the wider public has to Your Shared Information via the privacy settings in some of our services.”
- Another anti-privacy setting is n-gage has your status, picture, last seen, real name and typing info visible to everyone who has your phone number by default. To change that, you need to dive into the app settings. Again, a privacy-minded app has its defaults set to zero sharing and lets the user opt in instead of searching for ways to opt out.
- n-gage will share and disclose your information to law enforcement.
- It will share your information with its affiliates, contractors and partners.
- n-gage app and site are hosted in the United Kingdom – make your conclusions. If you don’t know what I am talking about, start by reading about the Five-Eye countries, PRISM and the UK surveillance bill.
- The app description does not explain the app permissions.
If the above is not a factor to you, go ahead and check the fancy features. n-gage messenger lets you:
- delete a message you already sent
- send messages to users of other apps (WhatsApp, Facebook, Hike)
- have video chats individual and group
- Private Vault to store sensitive contacts and messages
- Extract a message or a conversation you sent, which deletes it from your end and that of your recipient
- Password-protect a specific chat
- Send self-destructing messages
- Stealth Mode to become invisible to select friends and be anonymous in group chats
- End to end encryption at rest and in transit
- The app claims to protect your messages from being screen captured, but does not explain how
- You can personalize the design of your ngage messenger, use stickers, n-Cards and Doodle Plus (suppose this is where third-parties and partners enter)
In other words, n-gage messenger lets you hide stuff from your Mom, or non-techie roommate, but collects heaps of private data about you in exchange. In my world, this is not the way privacy-focused companies treat their users. Check and compare it to Tutanota, ProtonMail, CryptoCat, Threema or Wickr.
Finally, the description states the company donates a part of its profit to the disabled and the disadvantaged, and supports “many charitable causes around the world.” No mention as to which causes and in which parts of the world, or links to the said charitable organizations.
With the level of privacy-invasive data mining this app is engaged in while pitching itself as the one that offers unrivaled user privacy, n-gage is making itself a disservice by trying to combine the antagonistic practices.