Popular free apps are stealing information and distributing it

Popular free apps are stealing information and distributing it

By OUR CORRESPONDENT | | 12 December, 2015
Image for representational purposes.

The various apps that we use might be invading our privacy more than we realize. Marketing companies can easily profit from personal data that can be mined in large numbers, judging by the number of apps that are being downloaded everyday. When an app is free, it is likely that a developer or a company will need other means to earn income from it. It is not hard to imagine that these companies can earn by selling the personal information of its users.
Security expert Chester Wisniewski recently found that when broken into, it can be seen that the Facebook app captures the exact GPS location of a user, the Wi-Fi access point that one is connected to, the make of one’s phone, as well as mobile carrier. Although it might seem inconsequential to some, personal data, when put together in a large number translates into a very valuable resource. It is likely that personal advertisements that are tailored for you and posted on your Facebook profile are based on this personal information that you have not previously shared to any advertiser.
He also found that video messaging app Snapchat retains information such as phone number, date of birth, password and even the battery life remaining. However, it is not just social media apps that might be using our information without oour knowledge.
It was found that many other free apps such as flashlight, Bible, and even children’s games might be collecting the personal data of its users. Wisniewski found that the flashlight app connected to a strange server in China which was linked to dating websites and voice services there. After this, he found that the app was connected to 16 advertising networks, and was using the information found here and distributed it among these networks since it didn’t have to ask for permission.
The dealings of big names such as Facebook are a bit more transparent as they give one a glimpse into their privacy policy during the signup process. However, the app store does not require the app companies to publish a privacy policy during sign up. As a result, they operate in murky waters, with many apps offering privacy policies, and many not doing it.
Reiterating this, a recent study had also found that nine percent of the popular apps out there on Google Play actually interacted with websites that distribute malware, and as a result compromise the security and safety of the consumer. Needless to say, this is a worrying phenomenon which needs to be highlighted, since most people give little or no thought to privacy while downloading apps by the dozen. And with an evergrowing number of apps, there needs to be some sort of regulation put in place to make sure that these apps follow a particular set of guidelines which protect the privacy of the customer.
To protect oneself from this phenomenon, Wisniewski suggests that one should limit the amount of personal information that is kept stored on our smartphones.

Regardless of how boring and tedious the process may seem, it is imperative that we read the fine print before we decide to download an app. Another suitable method to keep ourselves safe from prying apps is to delete the ones that are not being used.

This might be a wake up call for all of us who store most of our lives away on our smartphones, without realizing the repercussions. He also instructs the user to go through the fine print. Regardless of how long or tedious it might seem, it is imperative that we read the fine print when we are about to download an app. Another suitable method to keep ourselves safe from prying apps is to delete the ones that are not being used. We often download apps that we rarely end up using. Instead of letting them stagnate there, we should delete them.  Big names such as Apple and Google try to screen apps that might steal information, so it is safer to download apps from these platforms. Aside from this, it has also been found that paid apps are more likely to keep your information secure as opposed to free apps. At the end of the day, we must screen what we download carefully, and create awareness about privacy as an important issue.

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