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LinkedIn Sued for Allegedly Reading Apple Users’ Clipboard Content

Last edited: July 17, 2020
Reading time: 4 minutes, 18 seconds

A lawsuit was filed by an iPhone user in San Francisco on Friday. The lawsuit claims that LinkedIn reads the information on the Clipboard without notifying the user. This behavior came to light during iOS 14 tests. This new Apple OS includes a feature that notifies the user when an app copies something from another app or device. The TikTok app showed this behavior as well.

Universal Clipboard

A clipboard is the place something is stored when you copy it. So when you copy a text on your phone, it is stored on the clipboard. Apple’s Universal Clipboard can be used by people who have more than one Apple device. They can copy a text, image, photo or video to the clipboard and then paste that content on another device. The clipboard can contain sensitive information, since people save a lot of details about their lives on their devices.

Apple has built a layer of protection into the clipboard feature. The clipboard includes a timeout, which will make sure that all information is removed from the clipboard after two minutes. But the lawsuit that was filed claims that LinkedIn has found a way to circumvent this feature.

Lawsuit

Apple user Adam Bauer filed a lawsuit in the San Francisco federal court. The suit argues that LinkedIn collects Apple users’ personal information through the Clipboard feature. If LinkedIn can access the information on the clipboard it could also mean that the app can access information on other nearby Apple devices.

Equality Check

LinkedIn hasn’t commented on the lawsuit yet, but the company did state a couple days ago that the app wasn’t intentionally reading the users’ clipboard. A LinkedIn spokesperson said that the privacy-intrusive behavior was caused by a bug. LinkedIn engineering VP Erran Berger explained that the app copies clipboard contents in order to perform an equality check when a user is typing. It will compare the text to the contents of the clipboard. Although he did not explain why this was happening in the first place.

“We’ve traced this to a code path that only does an equality check between the clipboard contents and the currently typed content in a text box,” Berger wrote on Twitter. “We don’t store or transmit the clipboard contents. We will follow up once the fix is live in our app,” he added. The company has now released a new version of its app to end the practice.

New Privacy Features

The fact that an app was able to read the clipboard contents was discovered because of a new privacy feature in the new beta version of iOS 14. The OS now notifies someone when an app copies something from another app or device. So you get a notification when an app accesses your clipboard.

iOS 14 is currently only available for developers and testers. Some of the developers noticed some interesting behavior from several apps. Some apps appear to copy clipboard content whenever you write something. The feature has exposed apps like AccuWeather, AliExpress, TikTok and now LinkedIn.

Anti-spam Feature

The TikTok app was copying content from the clipboard whenever a user was typing something, just like the LinkedIn app did. This came to light about two weeks ago, and caused some concern. People thought that the app was spying on data from other apps. TikTok explained that this wasn’t the case. The company said that the copying was part of an anti-spam feature, but this feature would soon be discontinued. The feature has never been introduced on Android devices.

The Chinese company ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, had already announced last year that they would stop accessing users’ clipboards. And now it turns out that they haven’t done so yet. The company never gave an end date for when they would stop the practice, but it is interesting to see that they have now been caught red-handed.

“Following the beta release of iOS 14 on June 22, users saw notifications while using a number of popular apps. For TikTok, this was triggered by a feature designed to identify repetitive, spammy behavior,” a TikTok spokesperson said, adding that the company was “committed to protecting users’ privacy and being transparent about how our app works”.

Past Security Issues

Over the last couple of months, TikTok has been criticized quite often about its security issues. The company has been under review for privacy violations, mainly concerning the privacy of young children. The app has been collecting their personal information without parental consent.

The American government is also worried about privacy issues concerning TikTok, mainly because the app is owned by a Chinese company. The relationship between these two countries has never been great and there are always worries that they are spying on each other. That is why the senate wants to ban TikTok from government phones.

Privacy Improvement

Currently, we don’t know what will happen with the LinkedIn lawsuit, or whether it will move forward at all. But it is good to see that app creators are being held accountable for their actions. The lawsuit will make developers think twice about accessing user data. Which means that this lawsuit could improve your overall privacy.

Cybersecurity analyst
David is a cyber security analyst and one of the founders of VPNoverview.com. Interested in the "digital identity" phenomenon, with special attention to the right to privacy and protection of personal data.

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