Careful: Some free apps can steal your data
If I glanced through your smartphone or tablet, I bet most of the apps you installed are free. We all love free apps.
Often, free apps have a privacy cost. When you install an app, you probably never read the app’s terms and conditions. You merely click “Agree.” In the terms and conditions, the app developer typically reveals what data you are voluntarily handing over to them such as your online activities, location, contact list, text messages, and more.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University recently analyzed the Google Play store’s top 100 apps operations, terms and conditions. They found the following 10 requested the most access to your smartphone or tablet’s hardware: Backgrounds HD Wallpaper, Brightest Flashlight, Dictionary.com, Google Maps, Horoscope, Mouse Trap, Pandora, Shazam, Talking Tom Virtual Pet.
It makes sense that Google Maps needs your location and song-identifying Shazam needs access to your microphone, but why does a virtual pet, dictionary or wallpaper app need anything like that? Both iOS and Android have built-in flashlights, so you don’t even need an app.
While the researchers looked at Android apps, almost all of these apps have iOS versions. iOS lets you set permissions on a case-by-case basis. Go to Settings>>Privacy and choose the permission, such as camera or GPS. Slide the slider to “Off” to deny a permission.
Unlike iOS, Android doesn’t have per-app permission controls. Google had it as a hidden feature in Android 4.4.2, but removed it. No one knows when or if it will be back.
Before you install any Android app, check the app’s page in the Google Play store. Google requires that developers reveal permissions that the app requires.
On an app page, scroll down to the “Additional Information” section and under “Permissions” click “View details.” Google users can turn off GPS and location services. Go to Settings>>Personal>>Location Services and uncheck any checked boxes.
As for apps that collect your contact data, make sure the app needs it for a legitimate reason. For example, communication apps Skype or Google Voice require it.
Many people were concerned because Facebook’s Messenger app wanted access to features such as the camera, audio recording, phone number calling and more. Facebook detailed a list of reasons why each was required for Messenger to work correctly.
Here are some of my favorite apps that have reasonable permissions or are up front about why they need them.
CamScanner — Scan documents with your phone’s camera
Evernote — A powerful note-taking and organization app
Google Translate — Translate 50+ languages
Instapaper — Save anything online to read later
JiWire — Find free Wi-Fi hotspots near you
Kindle — Browse and read Amazon e-books on your smartphone or tablet
Lumosity — Games to train your brain
Magnificent Magnifier HD — Get a close-up view of anything
OfferUp — A better way to buy and sell online than Craigslist
SleepBot — Figure out how to sleep better
If you’re wondering about other apps, visit PrivacyGrade. Here, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University examine what permissions an app should need, what it actually requires, and then assign it a grade.
E-mail Kim Komando at firstname.lastname@example.org.