Ever get on your smart phone and try to download some of the best free apps on the Internet? You should probably watch your back, because many of these seemingly free products are not free at all. Instead, they often come with a huge price in terms of privacy, and most consumers are not aware of what’s going on.
It seems that the general idea is that app makers are seeking to get a return on their investment somehow. If they aren’t charging the consumer up front, the only other way to make the money back is either through advertising or selling data. For some apps, it can be very difficult to run ads, since they may not easily fit into the interface. At that point, selling data is the only option left to pursue.
There are also other interesting security risks that may remind you not to be so quick to download just any old app you see. One company, Snapchat, built its multi-billion dollar brand on one important feature: You could take a picture of yourself, send it to a friend, and the picture would self-destruct in a matter of seconds.
Millions of people then downloaded Snapchat, believing that they’d now found a foolproof way to take any selfie without fear of consequence. The problem is that they forgot at least a couple of things: 1) A person can easily take a screenshot on a cell phone of any image you send them, and 2) people are regularly inventing “counterapps” for anything app that might suddenly become popular. Before long, someone invented a mechanism that allowed people to save those “self-destruct” pictures, so a lot of people were embarrassed.
The moral of the story might be simple. If you download anything, sign up for anything, you may want to take a second to read some of the fine print. But even then, realize that when you become part of the digital world, a footprint is being made, whether you are being made aware of the footprint or not. Someone, somewhere is always tracking you.
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.