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Mobile Apps: Are They Stealing Your Information?

 

Recent hacking and data breach incidents have tech users worried about their privacy. While most consumers are concerned that their privacy is being compromised by a breach, mobile apps seem to be the bigger culprit. According to Haystack, 70% of cell phone apps retrieve users’ personal information and give it to third-party companies. If that’s surprising, consider this: Google was spying on its users’ GPS location through cell towers to improve message speed. This can be considered great for user experience or could be considered, spying.

Mobile app companies employ a number of tactics to collect personal data from app users, with or without the user’s consent. What they do with that information could range from better user experiences to selling that data for profit. Below, we discuss fake apps, examples of mobile apps stealing information, and what you can do about it.

 

Fake Apps

 

Even though Google Play and the App Store have an app vetting process, some fake cell phone apps slip through the cracks. These applications gain access to people’s phone information and contain malware or viruses. Often, fake apps mimic real apps to trick people into downloading them.

In September of 2017, dozens of fake apps were uploaded to the Google Play store and downloaded 4.3 million times. This allowed hackers to gain access to users’ phones. Once inside, they could see information including GPS location, texts, calls, passwords, and have camera access. In light of this incident, Google updated their Google Play Protect policy.

Hackers use retrieved phone information for a variety of things including identity theft, and data brokering. The next time you are contemplating downloading an app, make sure to give it a second glance. 

 

3 Examples of Mobile Apps Stealing
Your Information

mobile app
Angry Birds App. Source: thethreesisters / Flickr

 

Brightest Flashlight App

In 2013, there was a ton of news about the Brightest Flashlight App. This seemingly harmless flashlight app was collecting Android users’ geolocation information without permission. The information retrieved was being given to third-parties and advertising agencies. In December of 2015, the FTC charged app developer Goldenshores Technologies, LLC with deceiving consumers.

The Brightest Flashlight App is just one of many flashlight apps that have retrieved information from users. A flashlight app should just be a flashlight, not a way for companies to collect data. Next time, use the flashlight that’s included on your iPhone or Android device.

 

Angry Birds

Angry Birds was the most popular mobile game, which I played myself. There was also a movie made about Angry Birds in 2016. Even though this game seems innocent, it has a history of stealing information. Using location information, Angry Birds has targeted ads towards users. Have you ever opened a new game app and they ask for your name, age, or to connect to a social media network? That’s just one way these mobile apps easily collect your data without you realizing it.

 

Facebook

It’s a well-known fact that Facebook gathers users’ information to better target advertising. With Facebook integrated into many things on the web such as through website buttons, the app can gather a lot of information about people. This includes the websites you visit, interests, locations, apps you and your friends install, and basic financial information.

In an article from Field Guide Gizmodo, security expert Bruce Schneier quoted on this subject:

“Everything people do, either on Facebook directly or on sites that have a Facebook ‘Like’ button, reveals information about them to Facebook. That’s an important point: Facebook tracks you even when you’re not on Facebook, because of their extensive surveillance network on sites that link to them.”

 

Even if you’re aware of some of the information Facebook is collecting about you, you may not be aware of all of it. Every link click, like, comment, and share could be providing them with information.  

 

How To Prevent Your Information
From Being Stolen

mobile app
Don’t pay your invoice using public Wi-Fi.

 

Make Sure Your Phone Software Is Up-To-Date

Having up-to-date cell phone software decreases your chances of hackers gaining access to your information. The updates seem to be happening every day now, but they’re necessary. Don’t ignore them just because they are annoying or someone is warning you not to update.

 

Read The App Privacy Policy Before Granting Permissions

To learn more about what information an app has access to, read their privacy policy before downloading and granting it permission. The policy is usually available on the app’s page as well as when you’re first signing into it. In the Google Play store, if you go to an app’s page and to the ‘Additional Information’ section, the app should have permissions information.

 

Think Before You Download New Apps

Applications in the App Store or Google Play may seem legit, safe, and real, but not all are. Take a second look and think before downloading new apps. View their website, privacy policy, and app description. You don’t want to be the victim of a fake app and have your information taken.

 

Be Careful When Using Public Wi-Fi

An easy way for mobile apps and hackers to gain access to your information is through public Wi-Fi networks. These networks are easy for hackers to find victims and are not secure. While connected, don’t participate in online activities that involve personal information. This includes looking at your bank account, work tasks, and online shopping.

 

Mobile apps seem harmless and innocent, but they have and will continue to steal people’s information. The practice of collecting users’ data is the new mobile app norm and won’t change anytime soon. People need to take the necessary precautions and be aware of what app permissions they agree to.  

Interested in getting your information back? Here’s how to get your cell phone data.

About Holly Zink

Holly Zink
I am interested in everything digital media and tech! Videos, photography, social media.

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