If you have a smart phone or other mobile device, you probably use apps – to play games, get turn-by-turn directions, access news, books, weather, and more. Easy to download and often free, mobile apps can be so much fun and so convenient that you might download them without thinking about some key considerations: how they’re paid for, what information they may gather from your device, or who gets that information.
How can I tell what information an app will access or share?
It’s not always easy to know what data a specific app will access, or how it will be used. Before you download an app, consider what you know about who created it and what it does. The app stores may include information about the company that developed the app, if the developer provides it. If the developer doesn’t provide contact information – like a website or an email address – the app may be less than trustworthy.
If you’re using an Android operating system, you will have an opportunity to read the “permissions” just before you install an app. Read them. It’s useful information that tells you what information the app will access on your device. Ask yourself whether the permissions make sense given the purpose of the app; for example, there’s no reason for an e-book or “wallpaper” app to read your text messages.
Why do some apps collect location data?
Some apps use specific location data to give you maps, coupons for nearby stores, or information about who you might know nearby. Some provide location data to ad networks, which may combine it with other information in their databases to target ads based on your interests and your location.
Once an app has your permission to access your location data, it can do so until you change the settings on your phone. If you don’t want to share your location with advertising networks, you can turn off location services in your phone’s settings. But if you do that, apps won’t be able to give you information based on your location unless you enter it yourself.
Your phone uses general data about its location so your phone carrier can efficiently route calls. Even if you turn off location services in your phone’s settings, it may not be possible to completely stop it from broadcasting your location data.
Questions About Advertising
Why does the app I downloaded have ads in it?
Developers want to provide their apps as inexpensively as possible so lots of people will use them. If they sell advertising space in the app, they can offer the app for a lower cost than if it didn’t have ads. Some developers sell space in their apps to ad networks that, in turn, sell the space to advertisers.
Why do I see the ads I do?
Advertisers believe you’re more likely to click on an ad targeted to your specific interests. Some ad networks gather the information apps collect, including your location data, and may combine it with information about your Internet browsing habits or the kind of information you provide when you register for a service or buy something online.
Should I update my apps?
Your phone may indicate when updates are available for your apps. It’s a good idea to update the apps you’ve installed on your device and the device’s operating system when new versions are available. Updates often have security patches that protect your information and your device from the latest malware.
Could an app infect my phone with malware?
Some hackers have created apps that can infect phones and mobile devices with malware. If your phone sends email or text messages that you didn’t write, or installs apps that you didn’t download, you could be looking at signs of malware.
If you think you have malware on your device, you have options: you can contact customer support for the company that made your device or you can contact your mobile phone carrier for help.
Can I trust all the user reviews I read about an app?
Most app stores include user reviews that can help you decide whether to download. But some app developers and their marketers have posed as consumers to post positive comments about their own products. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission recently sued a company for posting fake comments about the apps it was paid to promote.