April 22, 2015

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App Privacy: What to Check Before Downloading Phone Apps

You know the feeling: After hearing about a neat new app, you do some research and find out it’s fantastic. Maybe it tracks your business expenses perfectly, serves up a stress-busting daily yoga pose or easily keeps your kids’ afterschool schedules updated.

But before you zip past the terms and conditions and press “download,” take a moment to consider app privacy. Some apps collect user information, such as location and Web browsing history, in a rather stealth manner. This data is gathered mainly to push advertising to mobile users. However, depending on who’s buying the information, there may also be privacy risks that could lead to identity theft.

Fortunately, there are effective ways to enhance app privacy for cell phones and other devices:

  • Read before you download: The terms and conditions included with apps are usually so long that most people skip them. But they’re worth a closer look. These agreements include your permission to access certain types of information on your device, including phone and email contacts, device location, calendar data, and even call logs. Some apps access only what they need to function—such as a GPS app that taps into your location data — but others gather data that’s not needed for the app. Try to opt for the apps that collect the least amount of information.
  • Check the developer’s reputation: Even if the terms and conditions seem non-intrusive, do some research to confirm that the developer or company producing the app is legitimate. App stores may include information about who created the app along with links to that person or business. Visit the website to confirm contact information, including an email address for support issues. App fraud and scams are increasingly becoming a concern, so do your homework, especially when investigating banking or financial apps.
  • Read reviews: User and media reviews often deliver insights on app usability issues and glitches, and may also be helpful for spotting larger app privacy concerns. For example, you can find reviews about kids’ apps that not only give information on what kind of data is being collected, but also bring up privacy and security concerns you may not have considered.
  • Update your security: Some malicious apps take advantage of flaws in older operating systems, especially those that haven’t been fixed with a software update. Always stay on top of security patches and updates, since these can prevent a number of privacy-related issues.

Many apps are great little programs that can be fun and useful. But before downloading the newest and hottest app, consider device and cell phone privacy to make sure you’re not opening yourself up to unnecessary risk.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Kārlis Dambrāns.

Melanie Medina

Sr. Director of Digital Marketing at IdentityForce
Melanie is a native of Bolivia who has lived in Boston for over 10 years. She likes to make time to travel, jog, read, and play backgammon. Fueled by copious amounts of coffee, Melanie stays on top of her to-do list while also keeping abreast of identity theft issues. Serious data breaches are happening all the time in the U.S. and Melanie loves being part of a solution that brings peace of mind to families across the country.