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Mobile App Permissions Protect Your Privacy

February 05, 2018

From fitness trackers to personal assistants, mobile apps make life easier, but they can also put your privacy at risk. To provide personalized services, mobile apps gather and transmit information such as your locations, behaviors, and personal data. Bad actors can use that information in many ways to commit crimes - including identity theft. For example, it was recently discovered that fitness trackers were revealing the sensitive locations of U.S. military bases. Think how a would-be burglar could use location information to break into your home when you’re away. Mobile privacy is a balancing act - after all, a map application can’t help you without knowing your location. But you can protect your private information without completely sacrificing the benefits mobile applications provide.

  • Location services: Many mobile services depend on location information from your device, but you don’t have to let every app track you all the time. Most apps let you control whether they can access your location all the time, only while using their services, or never. Some apps, like weather, also allow you to enter locations manually instead of relying on location services from your device.
  • Personal info: To send email, allow mobile banking, or just purchase a coffee at Starbucks, mobile apps may access your contacts or transmit passwords, account numbers, or other personal information. Use app permissions to control access to your contact list. Use a password manager rather than storing passwords on any device, and protect account numbers and other sensitive info by turning on encryption in the device settings. Also turn off cloud-based backup, so personal information won’t be transmitted across the Internet. Instead, back up your devices to your personal computer or to a server at work if your company owns the device.
  • Behavior tracking: A recent study found that more than 70 percent of mobile apps connect to at least one tracker that gathers personal information, and 15 percent connect to five trackers or more. These third-party trackers can build a detailed picture of you: where you go, the websites you visit, your health, what you read, watch, eat, and buy. You can’t stop tracking completely without going off the grid, but you can minimize it. First, check the privacy settings on your device and change what you can. Second, before deciding to download any app, read the privacy policy to find out what personal information it gathers. Review policies for your existing apps as well and delete any whose practices you find unacceptable.

App makers and wireless providers are constantly finding ways to offer you new services, and they often find new ways to gather and monetize your personal data in the process, so protecting your privacy is an ongoing task.

So far, we’ve only talked about legitimate applications, as opposed to bad apps that can even use your device’s camera and microphone to spy on you. (We’ll tackle those in an upcoming post.) Whatever way you slice it, mobile computing has its risks. But with awareness and a little effort, you can have your convenience and your security, too. ​

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