This is a guest post by Eric Brady, a Cyber Security Expert
The phrase “there’s an app for that” seems to apply to every single facet of the human condition. The abundance of applications available for smartphones and tablets has changed how we do everything from drive to cook to buy shoes to treat the common cold. Over 3 million apps are available for Apple and Android devices, all addressing the world’s hunger for something to do on their mobile devices. Certainly, if you need to eat, think, fix, work, play, find love, or even break-up…“there’s an app for that.”
What you may not know is that the vast majority of these mobile apps are not developed by the phone or tablet manufacturer, but by independent software developers. Be it a new game, fitness tracker, social media app, or geo finder, your favorite apps are much more likely to be created by a private developer whose goal is not always to help you get through your day. Often they have more dubious ambitions by placing their program on your device. Often these applications do more than entertain and inform—they can also invade your privacy.
There’s a litany of ways these apps can mine information from your daily life and parlay it into profits for the app developer. In fact, according to a recent survey, 80-95% of the top-200 most downloaded applications employ at least one “risky” behavior during normal use. These behaviors include following you with geo-location, accessing your contacts, using single sign-on—like using your Google credentials to log into non-Google apps, identifying your device by accessing your unique device identifier, employing in-app purchasing, and—perhaps the most profitable for developers—sharing all this information, as well as your chatting, buying, traveling, sharing, and other personal information, with advertisement networks and analytics companies. And all of this done without your knowledge.
Armed with this information, what are some simple steps that you can take to better protect your privacy?
- First, keep in mind that there is no such thing as “no risk” when it comes to using mobile devices. The very nature of using a mobile app exposes you to potential privacy intrusions. Therefore, you should weigh the benefit versus the potential privacy risk when installing any application onto your mobile device.
- Do your due diligence about any apps you download. By the way, non-gaming apps tend to be less risky than gaming apps, and free apps tend to be risker than those you pay for.
- If at all possible, avoid signing into apps using your Facebook, Google, or other social network accounts.
- Confirm that the app you're installing requires only the permissions it needs to function. For example, if a flashlight app asks to access your contacts and post to social media sites, run away!
- Use location services sparingly. Geo tracking is not only a risky set of data to share with strangers, it is also drains battery power more quickly.
- Examine all your apps to determine if they are safe before downloading. If the app is new or not well-known, search for unbiased reviews of the app to see what others are saying. A simple Google search for “app name – problems” may be beneficial.
Smartphones are quite arguably the most earth-changing technological development of all time. Few inventions have had more impact on so many facets of daily life for so many billions of people. They make our lives easier and more efficient, helping us stay connected with friends and loved ones, as well availing to us almost all of the acquired intelligence on the entire planet…instantly!
Of all the information you gather with your mobile device, none is more important than information regarding the very apps you use. Do your homework and practice these simple steps to increase your mobile device satisfaction while decreasing their risk of invading your privacy.