How to ensure your apps are not snooping on you3 min read . Updated: 19 Jan 2016, 04:19 PM IST
Mobile apps are fun and useful but they have a dark side too; it's best to know what information they can gather and how to avoid it
While smartphones enable the use of a variety of apps and games, what most users do not realize is that some of these apps pose a serious security and privacy risk in terms of the data they collect. According to a study published in November by the US’ Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon and Harvard universities, almost 73% of the 55 tested Android apps and 47% of the 55 tested iOS apps reported a user’s location. Almost 49% of Android apps shared personal information such as name and email address with advertising networks. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you are wary about sharing your personal information, here are a few things you can do to avoid your data being compromised.
Read the app’s permissions before installation
While installing an app, you may have noticed a page that pops up after you click install, before the download starts. This page shows what the app you are going to install can see and listen to on your smartphone. The list is often long and many sign up without reading it properly. Though you can’t change the app’s terms and conditions, it is important to take a call on whether those demands are justified or not. And that is when you can perhaps decide to give some apps a wide berth. For example, a travel app asking to access your calls or messages makes no sense. It may be a scam to gather names and details of people in your phone book. A lot of users save not just contact numbers but also additional details, such as the email and job profile of the person.
Use phones that control access
When it comes to the majority of smartphones, users have little choice except to install or not install the app. But many of the newer Android smartphones, such as OnePlus One and Two, Honor 7 and Xiaomi Mi 4i, allow users to restrict apps from accessing certain data by allowing manual control of each aspect. Basically, you can stop Facebook from accessing your camera, or not allow WhatsApp access to your photo library. This feature might soon be available on more devices, for Google has included it as a regular feature in the Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) version of Google’s mobile OS. Unfortunately, there is no respite yet for Apple iPhone users, because iOS does not yet allow such fine control over apps.
Download apps only from app stores
Android is the most popular operating system, with 82.8% of the mobile market share in terms of units shipped, as per the International Data Corporation’s last “Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker" report, published in August. Apple’s iOS comes second, with a 13% market share. One of the reasons for Android’s immense popularity is that it is a lot more flexible. For example, you can download an app for an Android smartphone not just from the official Play Store but also from various other sources. Basically, you download what is known as the .apk file, which allows you to install the app on your Android phone. However, downloading a .apk file can be risky. It is easy for a hacker or someone with malicious intent to tamper with the codes in a .apk file, and steal data from your phone. Most people opt for these, however, because they bypass the one-time payment (for paid apps) and help users play games or use apps for free. Most app stores, including the Google Play Store, vet every app before allowing them on their stores. As long as you are downloading from the official store, the risk is considerably lower.