Archive

ShareThis Page
Careful: Some free apps can steal your data | TribLIVE.com
News

Careful: Some free apps can steal your data

Tribune-Review
| Friday, November 14, 2014 12:01 a.m.

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 techcomments@usatoday.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.