One of the highlights of owning a smartphone is the wealth of applications (apps) that are available for them. These include apps for productivity, for social networking, for media, and even for gaming and they make the use of a smartphone a pleasure. In fact they may make the smartphone a virtual all in one games, networking and media center on the go for those want that. However they also risk exposing your personal and sensitive information.
A large number of the apps that are available need some kind of access to the features of your phone. This may be internet access in order to relay the scores that you get to a central server, and hence compare them to other people’s score.
This is ok if you want to play games like that, but may be viewed as an intrusion if you do not-and some games unfortunately may not run without an internet connection. Online radios, and streaming video apps will obviously need internet access.
What is worrying is that they won’t always tell you what information they are storing and transmitting about you. It has recently been discovered that some apps, including Pandora (the free internet radio service) uses and transmits personal information, including your age and gender. The official reason is to better able them to target your music, and they claim that information is anonymized. However recent attacks on websites such as Gawker and Lifehacker have shown that it is possible to hack websites and hence gain unauthorized access to the information that they contain.
Other applications may access other features without telling you. Installing an application on an Android device will tell you exactly what access the app has to your phone, and surprisingly this is often rather open. Games may list access requirements that include phone calls-and it is fairly inconceivable that any game would need this kind of access.
It is important to remember the kind of information that is stored on your phone. There are phone numbers and other contact information such as addresses. Cookies on your phone may contain passwords and log in information-and at worse there may be banking information or information that may enable identity theft.
Some simple measures can help to limit the risks. Many applications come in ‘official’ varieties that are released by the phone’s operating system, or by the big websites, such as Facebook. Of all of the apps, these are the most likely to be trustworthy-that is, they are the most likely to not abuse the access that they have to your device, or to the information stored on it. Choosing these over the copycat apps is likely to lower your risks.
Reading the terms and conditions of use that come with many apps, or that are available on the vendor’s website is another good way to see what information they collect and use. Searching the net for known problems may also help.
If in doubt as to the authenticity of an app, it is probably best that you just don’t install it. That way you know that your personal information is safe, and that you won’t be putting yourself at undue risk.