If you are the owner of a smartphone, you're probably quite active in downloading free or paid apps (applications). If you can, you'll probably choose the free option of an app when given the choice of a paid alternative: it just seems like the smart choice. But is it? William Jackson writes for GCN about how there is "no such thing as a free app."
The Hidden Costs of Free Apps
Although both paid and free apps have potential security issues, free apps come with greater risks:
- Text message costs - some apps will initiate text messages to premium numbers or will background call foreign numbers; you may wind up with an expensive wireless bill
- Information sharing - many apps will dig into the information on your phone as well as monitor your online activity
- Contact sharing - although a part of the information on your phone, you may not realize that many apps can access your contact list (and all details you share there)
- Location sharing - apps may track where you are
- Vulnerabilities - apps may have vulnerabilities that put your mobile at risk
- Malware - some apps contain malware that can steal log-in information or personal data stored on the phone
Valid apps are just as likely to infringe upon your privacy as malicious ones, though the risks from malicious apps are higher (identity theft, for example). If you want to know more, check out these additional risks.
Avoiding Unexpected Costs
You are ultimately in control when it comes to your phone - you have the say of what you download and many features require your permission.
- If an application asks you for permission to access geographic features, say 'No'
- Download applications only from official app stores (not a guarantee of no risk), not from file-sharing sites
- Read the privacy documentation of the app to see what information it is accessing. Be wary of apps without privacy documentation or ones with suspicious use of permissions.
- Don't unlock or root your device: this leaves it vulnerable to attack
- Bank with authorized apps only (not unauthorized apps or via the browser)
- Stick to popular apps - they are less likely to be malicious
- Download from reputable publishers with multiple apps with many downloads or high ratings