An Easy Guide to Safely Using Mobile Apps

These days, you’re forced into accepting certain “approval” settings before apps are downloaded to your smartphone. Most of us don’t think twice about it, but have you ever stopped to read what approval the apps are asking for? With the constant threat of malware and viruses, online identity theft, cyberbullying, etc., you must be the master of your destiny by paying attention to small details like app approval settings. If you’re a parent, it’s even more important to understand what your children are signing up for when downloading apps.

According to 2015 data from Pew Research, 73 percent of teens have smartphones, and in 2017 Pew reported that 77 percent of adults have these devices – that makes for a lot of potential cybercrime victims. So what are some quick steps we can take to enhance our own – and our children’s – safety and privacy online?

Don’t Skip the Fine Print

A company’s true intentions are hidden in their fine print. As consumers, we know this, yet it’s something we rarely read; it’s lengthy, dense and confusing. Companies count on this to deter people from taking the time to read it all.

But by taking the time, you’ll probably find that most of your apps have access to your location, age, birthday, phone number and loads of other personal tidbits. In fact, according to CNN, the moment you sign up with a cellphone carrier like Verizon, the carrier is granted access to all of that personal information. It’s not until after you’re set up that you have the option to opt out.

CNN writes, “When you sign up for Verizon service, you agree to let the company use your location, Web searches, app usage and other data…Verizon sends that data to an internal database, matching it up with a deep trove of demographic information about you from companies including data giant Experian.”

Does that sound a little scary? It explains how your recommended internet searches, Amazon purchases, Facebook link clicks and more seem to “know” you so well.

Avoid Third-Party Apps & Unrecognized App Stores

A third-party app is “an application that is provided by a vendor other than the manufacturer of the device,” according to PCMag. Many of these apps are more prone to security vulnerabilities because their developers may not be held to the same security standards as your phone or tablet manufacturer. Particularly if the app is free, the app company makes its “money” by disseminating your information to other parties.

Take control by reading through all of the fine print before downloading apps. Take note of how “spammy” they look as well – if they are free and filled with ads, have broken features and/or load dangerously slowly, be wary. Read reviews left by users and take into account the overall rating of an app before you download it. Try searching for the name of the app’s developer online to glean more insight.

In terms of unrecognized app stores, it’s important to know from where your apps are originating. Ofcom writes, “For example, someone could take a popular paid-for app, add their own illegitimate elements and then offer it for free on ‘bulletin boards’ or ‘peer-to-peer’ networks.” Stick to reputable and well-recognized app stores.

Delete Unused Apps

Even apps that you hardly use can subject you to security vulnerabilities. As long as they’re installed, they don’t need to be running in order to do damage. They can be collecting data in the background. This is why it’s important to delete apps you aren’t using.

Ofcom found that nearly half of apps downloaded are not used on a regular basis. So that chore organizer app or that ab workout app that you haven’t touched in months – delete it!

By deleting unused apps, reading the fine print and avoiding third-party apps and unrecognized app stores, you can dramatically decrease your chances of becoming a victim of cybercrime and manage your online privacy in a relatively easy way.