Mobile apps are a great way to solve immediate problems that we deal with on a daily basis. Need a flashlight to aid you while you look under the hood of your car? A quick stroll through your local market will reveal a plethora of applications that will instantly turn your device into a high powered sensation. What about converting dollars into pounds? Guess what? With a click of your finger, it can happen. Even apps for dog whistles exist. Let’s face it, mobile apps are a staple of our culture and society. We often get so complacent on using them, that we never consider at what price these illustrious tools come at.
The majority of the applications we purchase on the various markets are free and do not require anything additional in the form of sign ups. That’s great, right? Well consider TINSTAAFLs rule. There is no such thing as a free lunch. What I mean is what is package as free, is often accompanied with a price: your privacy.
Your personal information can be sold to third parties at a decent premium by app developers. This helps to offset the cost of development and is the most widely used method to generate revenue for publishers besides embedded ads.
Many apps that you download can have access to vital and private information including your contacts, phone number, pictures, email addresses, documents and even your camera.
I recall one day, I downloaded a game from the market and within minutes I received an unsolicited text messages for a vacation I recently won and apparently signed up for. Perplexed by this, I uninstalled the application and reinstalled just to isolate the root cause. To my amazement, I received the same solicitation. As I investigated the application’s permissions in settings, i discovered that the application has access to my phone book and my phone number. Needless to say, I had to uninstall the program to avoid my friends and family from being impact.
So what can you do to protect yourself? First and foremost always explore the permissions you are granting an application prior to downloading, especially if you are downloading from an android market. Apple has a more stringent submission process than Google Play at the time of this writing. Ask yourself, does it make sense for this app to access this information; am I comfortable with giving them this access; how reputable is the publisher?
Next, take some time to review the comments left by others who have experienced this app: is there a consistency in the comments; is there anything outside the ordinary that the app should not do; are others uninstalling the app for reasons not related to it’s intent. That valuable information could help prevent you from being exposed.
Lastly, prior to downloading, ensure that you have a popular well known antivirus application on your mobile device that has the ability to scan applications that have been downloaded. Many of these programs have the ability to notify you right away if the application has been marked as malicious or problematic. Some even give you the option to limit the permissions the application has. This is a significant benefit.
Understanding how the app market works is a great step in protecting your privacy.