When downloading an app to one’s mobile device, the goal is to get it installed as quickly and easily as possible. Rarely do we notice which data or hardware the application is requesting access to. This presents a huge risk for over-sharing, as many applications request access to data they don’t need to function properly.
The latest and greatest example of this is Facebook’s new messenger application. NPR’s Marketplace did a great story on this yesterday (take a listen here). Basically, Facebook separated out messaging into an independent application. The new messaging application requests access to your phone’s camera and microphone… Buy why? Why does the app need that access? [Spoiler: it really doesn’t]
Facebook’s messenger app isn’t unique; many apps request access to your contacts, location data, microphone, camera, etc. even when this information isn’t necessary for the functionality of the application. The good news is that you can stop the leak of your data, or at least be aware of it, with a few simple steps.
- Go to the “Settings” application. Under “Device”, click on “Apps”
- Click into an app and view the “App Info”. Scroll down to view “Permissions”
- Check which applications are requesting access to your data, and uninstall any apps that have too many permissions.
- Go to the “Settings” application. Under “Privacy”, click on a “Category” (i.e. Contacts) to view the apps that have that permission.
- Turn the button to “off” for any application that shouldn’t have access (Angry Birds probably doesn’t need access to your contacts or location).
Free Third-party Apps:
- AppOps: Google released this tool as AppOpsSummary and then removed it (weird!). This open source app, released by privacy-savvy developers, allows you to manage your app permissions in a simple way.
- MyPermissions: This free app is designed to help you control all of your apps permissions in one place.
Blackphone, the new privacy-centric device from SGP Technologies, comes with a number of native applications that promote user empowerment and mobile privacy. Permissions-controlling functionality is baked right into the platform, SilentOS. The phone also automatically limits the amount of data applications have access to through its “Default Privacy” setting. We’re giving away a new Blackphone. So, if this device interests you, be sure to enter our contest here.
Small actions make a big difference in determining what data you share. A lot of this isn’t rocket science, but it can be difficult to determine what the proper search term is if you’re interested in learning more. So, if you want to continue learning about mobile applications and the data they request, search the web for “Control app permissions + [name of your device/operating system]”.