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How to Protect Your Privacy Against Invasive Apps

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Fall 2012 — Security News and Advice


Mobile applications are known for bringing the fun to smartphones, but they can also bring privacy risks.

You may already be aware of malicious apps that are designed to steal your personal information and send it back to cybercriminals. They can also deliver malware that can compromise your mobile security. But other seemingly innocent apps, including ones that offer games, mapping, or other helpful functions, may also be silently trying to access your personal information.

Many of these invasive apps are legitimate applications that access more information than they actually need. Your information could also be used for marketing, tracking or data mining purposes. For example, just recently, the social networking app Path, was uploading its users’ entire address books to its servers without permission1.

And Path was not alone in its invasiveness. Earlier this year, popular apps such as Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram were cited with gathering address information stored on users’ phones, and sometimes on their computers2. Other “leaky” apps have been known to send the phone’s unique ID address to other companies, and share the user’s gender and personal information with outsiders. It’s not always clear why apps want this information, but what is clear is that users are often unaware of just how much information their apps gather.

This is a threat to your mobile security because your personal information, if put into the wrong hands, can be sold to shady marketers and used to spam your contacts. Your phone calls and text messages could even be recorded and tracked!

While some government agencies3 have started cracking down on app developers, asking them to offer more transparent privacy policies, it’s still up to you, the user, to make sure that the apps you download are safe. With this in mind, here are some mobile security tips to help you protect your information and your device:

  • Only download apps from official app stores—Avoid downloading fake and risky applications by sticking to official app stores such as the Apple App Store and Google Play, for Android devices.
  • Do reputation checks—Read other users’ reviews before you download an app to make sure that it is malware-free, and that there are no complaints about privacy concerns.
  • Pay attention to permissions—Find out what kind of information the app wants to access before you download it. For example, if a gaming app asks for permission to access your contacts, or other unnecessary personal information, be suspicious and don’t download it.
  • Get mobile security—Before downloading any applications, make sure that you have comprehensive mobile security such as McAfee® Mobile Security with app protection that checks to see if your applications are accessing your personal data. McAfee Mobile Security also includes antivirus protection to help guard your device from viruses and other malware, as well as anti-theft security and web, call and text filtering.
    Get up to speed by checking out this helpful infographic on app privacy, and start protecting yourself today with a free one-week trial of McAfee Mobile Security.

Of course, just being aware that there are risky apps out there and doing your research before your download applications will help improve your mobile security.

1 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/08/path-app-contacts-address-book-privacy_n_1262390.html
2 http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/15/google-and-mobile-apps-take-data-books-without-permission/
3 http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/15/the-state-of-mobile-app-privacy-policies/


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