Posted on Aug 21, 2014 by Rick Falkvinge

The “Yo” App Demonstrates How Metadata Is Private Data

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An app that sends “Yo!” to your friends. That’s all it does. Hacked up in eight hours, in the top-five apps, valued at 10 million dollars. What’s interesting is that it totally shreds the spy agencies’ “it’s just metadata” argument.

Spy agencies like the United States’ NSA and the British GCHQ recently invented the concept of “metadata” in communications for legal purposes. Specifically, they invented it in order to legally wiretap ordinary people’s phone calls and conversations. Legally according to them, anyway.

If you look closer at this behavior, you can find one defensive line being parroted over and over and over again: “we don’t wiretap any of the conversation, just the metadata”. Metadata is everything but the conversation: who’s talking to whom, when, from where, and in what manner. (It turns out that the spy agencies were recording all the conversations too, but let’s disregard that for a minute for the sake of this argument.)

In this way, the spy agencies managed to stall criminal prosecution for their actions for… well, so far, actually. But the “Yo” app shines a brutal spotlight on just how hollow and nonsensical the “it’s just metadata” argument is.

With “Yo”, there is no conversation. Everything it sends is “Yo”. Nothing more, nothing less. Therefore, any communication using this app is literally all metadata, and yet, is obviously part of a private correspondence of some sort.

Before, these arguments have been rather convoluted, trying to protest that it was a private matter whom you spoke to, and the spy agencies would try to convolute it in layers of legal shrouds, ethical or not.

But the Yo app ends that.

Metadata is not just part of the conversation. With Yo, it is the conversation. Therefore, the initial justification from the spy agencies and the legal invention of “metadata”, as opposed to the protected correspondence, doesn’t hold a centiliter of water.

About Rick Falkvinge

Rick is Head of Privacy at Private Internet Access. He is also the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. Additionally, he has a tech entrepreneur background and loves good whisky and fast motorcycles.

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  1. Andrew Cropper Wakeman

    So the yo app fills up their storage and to waste their time? Who really gets NSA busted over a torrent film? Bet no one their not going to waste their time, they want the big fish.

    4 years ago
  2. TheSpaceOctopus

    Hell yeah. Go them.
    This is less about what it does and more about the point of what it does & how important it is to the current issues.

    4 years ago
  3. Ng Wei Khang

    It’s really terrible how these spy agencies are misinformed about
    metadata and whether it’s private data or not! Well, the “Yo” app sounds
    interesting and I am glad that it can protect a private conversation. A great

    4 years ago