After the location tracking app Zenly was shut down, many young people in Vietnam have searched for replacements, considering them ‘essential’ to stay connected with friends, despite data exploitation warnings.
Bao Ngoc, a 21-year-old student in Hanoi, said he and his group of 20 friends had been loyal Zenly users for 3 years. But the 10-year-old app, which is owned by Snap, officially shut down on February 2.
“The end of the app made our group disheartened, so we wanted to find a similar app to replace it,” Ngoc said.
Potential candidates include Whoo, BFF or iSharing, Ngoc said. Each of them have different functionalities, but all are similar to the now-defunct Zenly. However, the most popular location-tracking app in Vietnam at the moment is Whoo.
Data from Google Trends revealed that the number of searches for the keyword “Whoo” has tripled since the end of January.
Over the past week, Whoo has also ranked among the most downloaded apps on the App Store and Play Store.
Whoo, developed by Japanese firm LinQ, was released on iOS in December last year, and then on Android in January. The app garnered over 100,000 downloads on the Play Store in just 10 days. Its interface and functionalities are similar to Zenly, including its ability to see friends’ battery charges, how much time they stay in one place, and the speed at which they are moving.
According to Ngoc, Whoo copied many of Zenly’s tracking functionalities.
Ngo Minh Hieu, a cybersecurity expert, said locations are considered sensitive personal info, and such info could be dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands. Apps that encourage users to share their locations always harbor the risk of such data being exploited to track users, he said.
Zenly, for example, can be discreetly installed on a phone to run invisibly in the background, a trait which users have taken advantage of to track other people covertly. For example, a parent can install it on a child’s phone to track them, as a lover can also do with a partner, without the phone users’ knowledge.
Besides sharing locations, these apps also ask for access to users’ contacts, camera and other functionalities. Hieu said the Whoo version for Android in particular requests access to several functionalities at the same time, including potentially dangerous ones like locations and data recording.
“Developers all claim that they don’t make money on users’ data, but in reality, users have no way to know how their data is used, not to mention the risk of developers getting hacked and data being stolen,” said Hieu, adding that using access restriction phone settings is the best way for users to protect their data.
Ngoc said his group of friends is a close-knitted one, so location sharing is not a big deal. He said it’s “useful” whenever they want to meet up.
Hoang Yen, another Whoo user in the southern province of Bac Lieu, said she is used to staying connected with her best friends through location tracking apps.
“Essential,” is what she called such apps.
“But we’ve told each other not to let strangers track us, and we can also turn off tracking when we need privacy,” Yen said.
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