But You said I could!

Imagine walking up to a stranger on the street and handing him your personal address book, driver’s license, and email password. Crazy, right? But you might be doing just that when you install that cool new app on your phone or tablet.
If you own a smartphone or tablet, you should be paying attention to what the apps you’re installing want to do to you and your data. It doesn’t take the NSA to compromise your data; sometimes you can do it all by yourself by simply not paying attention.

When you install an app, you’ll be presented with a list of “permissions” before you can install the app. Some of the things an app might ask permission for include:

  • Full Internet access
  • Your Location
  • Read your contacts
  • Read your account information
  • Change system settings
  • Install shortcuts on home screen
  • Read phone identity
  • View network connections

Some apps need a lot of permissions to do their job; The Facebook app, for example, wants to make phone calls, send texts, take photos, and a whole host of other things. This is expected with them, because they are all about social networking.
You have to ask yourself, “does this app really need all these permissions? Recently, an Android app called “Brightest Flashlight” had it’s creators taken to court over the app’s mining data from it’s over 50,000 users.

Screenshot 2014-01-30 12.01.53Screenshot 2014-01-30 12.02.15

All these permissions for a Flashlight??!! Give me a break!
Some of the biggest offenders are games, ringtones and wallpapers. People want to have fun and personalize their phone, and they never ask themselves, “What’s in it for the developer if they’re giving the app away for free?” What’s in it, of course, is using your personal information to target you (and possibly your contacts, as well) for advertising. If you decide to install, say, wallpaper, and it asks for Internet access, guess what? You’re going to get ads, your device may slow down, and it’ll eat up your data! Now, some free, ad-supported apps are okay. These are the ones that only display advertising on the app itself, only when you are using the app. If you can stand that and the app is useful, go for it. Read the ratings others have left for the app to see how intrusive the advertising is.

So next time you install an app, pay attention to the permissions you are granting to that app, and ask yourself, “Do I really want to share this much with someone I don’t know?” Is it worth it? Sometimes the answer is yes, but at least make an informed decision.

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