Does your phone’s keypad compromise your privacy?

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You wouldn’t think a smartphone keyboard could impact your digital privacy. But it is indeed the case. Powered by machine learning, many smartphone keyboard apps send samples of what you type back to the company that owns them. Here, to help you stay in control of the data you transmit, we’ve created this guide detailing the most common smartphone keyboard data retention policies.

Modern smartphone keyboards are really smart, though some of us miss the days of physical keyboards or even T9 texting on a phone number pad. However, many of them send samples of what you type (and speak, in the case of voice-recognition “keyboards”) back to their developer to improve accuracy, auto-correction choices, and predictive word or word suggestions. of phases for auto-completion.

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That’s fine if you don’t mind contributing to Google or Microsoft’s data pool (and potentially having snippets of your posts seen or heard by a third-party contractor working on behalf of those companies) .

But some phone keyboards like SwiftKey have already leaked data including email addresses to other users in auto-complete suggestions, while the Kika Keyboard app has been caught engaging in fraud. advertising credit. The most egregious leaks and privacy breaches are addressed when exposed, but that’s not a testament to the reliability of big tech companies when it comes to your private communication.

And if privacy is a matter of personal security, a leaky keyboard can be exploited by bad actors and hostile governments to render even the most secure messaging apps’ encryption useless.

Open source keyboards don’t have such unexpected little surprises, as their code is available for public review and auditing by any interested party, but don’t have the same functionality as their more intrusive counterparts.

Whether you prefer privacy or appreciate the extra quality of life features that come with more intrusive apps that use human contributors and machine learning to improve their predictive text suggestions, it’s important to know reputation and habits. security of the keyboard application you are using. and the company behind.

iOS keyboard

This is a closed source keyboard. The default iOS keyboard shares information with Apple if Share iPhone Analytics is enabled. When data collection is enabled, it uses “differential privacy” (PDF link) to add “statistical noise” to the data it returns for analysis, with the aim of making it harder for you to be identified from the returning snippets to Apple for analysis.

Gboard (default Android keyboard)

This is closed source and available for Android and iOS. The standard Google keyboard allows tap input, sliding your finger between letters and typing by voice. It’s great to use, but returns snippets of your entry to Google by default.

You can turn this off by going to the advanced virtual keyboard settings through the Languages ​​& input menu on Android, and disabling advanced usage statistics, customizations, and the “Improve voice and typing for everyone” option. IOS users should go to their keyboard settings and disable the “Allow full access” option.

Gboard Advanced Settings menu on Android
Disable these options to make Gboard more privacy-friendly on Android

Microsoft Swiftkey

A very popular closed source keyboard. It’s a sliding or “sliding” keyboard for Android and iOS, SwiftKey was purchased by Microsoft in 2016. It collects data to improve its predictive features by default. Unlike many of its more popular competitors, SwiftKey provides a comprehensive guide to disabling and managing data collection and word prediction.

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Grammar keyboard

It is also a closed source product. The beauty of Grammarly is that it performs in-depth analysis of user input to help you make your language use more correct and elegant. Grammarly is very clear about the data it collects on iOS and in general, but the only way to prevent it from collecting sample data from your writing is to turn it off.

OpenBoard

A fully open-source keyboard, OpenBoard is only available for Android, but it’s my go-to choice for phone typing. It doesn’t collect or share your data with anyone and supports all the languages ​​I use, but you’re limited to screen tapping, as there’s no swipe to type feature.

You can get it from both the Google Play Store and the F-Droid open source repository, so devices running degoogled operating systems descended from Android can also use it.

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