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How to Use Mobile Apps Safely

smart phone screen

If you own a mobile device, you are probably familiar with mobile apps. There are apps for everything from shopping and entertainment to social networking and financial management. Typically the apps are easy to download and in many cases free. They are a great way to pass the time and can make routine tasks, such as checking the weather or getting your account balance, simple and easy. Before downloading any app take time to review important information about the app including how the app works, what information the app receives from your device and how it’s used, and who owns the app if you need help.  Check out our guide on mobile apps along with tips to help keep you safe while using them.

How Mobile Apps Work

Mobile apps are software programs you can download and access through an internet enables device. Your devices operating system determines which applications are compatible. Accessing the app stores on your device will allow you to download and install apps. Some apps are provided for free while others charge a fee to download.

Using the application requires internet access, which can be provided through Wi-Fi hotspots or through data plans purchased from various phone providers. Wi-Fi connections generally are faster, but you have to be in range of a hotspot to use them. Data plans allow you to use your mobile device to connect to the internet as long as there is a signal. While most providers offer unlimited data plans, ideal for heavy internet users, moderate and low cost plans are also available, including prepaid plans. With data plans however, you want to watch out for overage fees that may occur if the allotted bandwidth limit is exceeded.

Access to Your Information

When you download an app, you may be asked for permission to allow access to information in your device such as your contacts, call history, internet data, or device location. While some apps only access the data it needs to function, others access data unrelated to how the app performs. Data you provide while using the app may be collected and stored by the developer, an advertiser, the network, the app store or others. This information can then be shared with other companies and individuals.

Read the “permissions” provided before installation to find out what information the app will access and determine whether the permissions make sense given the purpose of the app. For example a music app or e-book would not need permission to read text messages in your device.

Some apps use your location to customize searches and provide results based on your local and interests. Remember, even after you give an app permission to access your location, you can use your device settings to stop sharing this information.

Before You Install an App

Before downloading an app consider what the app does and how familiar you are with its creator. Think twice about using an app that does not provide the developers contact information, such as a website or email address.  Only download apps from a trusted source.

Most apps have reviews that rate how well the app functions and details about consumers experience using the app.  However, there are also marketing agents and shills from the developers that may review and rate the app favorably.  Be cautious of apps that have only positive reviews.

Advertisements

Most apps feature advertisements. Developers typically sell ad space in the app to lower the cost of the app to users. If the app is inexpensive, or free, it is more likely to be used by more people.  Some developers even sell ad space to ad networks who in turn sell the space to advertisers. Often ad networks collect information the app gathers and uses it to market products or services that meet your interests.

Security Concerns

Frequently apps require upgrades to ensure the app is running appropriately and also to correct issues that may be reported. Keeping your operating system and the app updated with the new versions may help you avoid having your device infected with malware. The updates often have security patches to address these potential threats. If you believe your device has been infected with malware you can: contact the device manufacturer customer support team; contact your mobile provider; or install a security app to scan and remove apps where malware is detected.

Mobile Apps for Kids

There are several apps that cater to children. In addition to providing fun activities for kids be aware that the app may:

  • collect and share personal information
  • allow them to spend real money (even on apps that are free to download)
  • include ads
  • link to social media

Prior to downloading the app review the screenshots, read the description, check the rating and reviews, and also research the app developer. An internet search may reveal additional information you may find useful in determining if the app is ok for kids.

Even after researching the app and installing it, you may want to put restrictions on how the children can use the apps. Through the settings you may be able to restrict content so that it is appropriate for the child’s age or development, set passwords so they can’t make unauthorized in-app purchases, and modify Wi-Fi or data services that enable the device to connect to the internet. Speak to kids about your rules for app usage and internet safety.

About Business Consumer Alliance Business Consumer Alliance (BCA) is a non-profit company that started in 1928. The broad purpose of BCA is to promote business self-regulation. BCA's mission is achieved by assisting consumers in resolving complaints with businesses and using that complaint information, along with other relevant information such as customer reviews, to forecast business reliability. With community support, BCA can identify trustworthy and ethical businesses and warn the public to avoid unscrupulous businesses whose purpose is to defraud the marketplace. BCA also helps businesses promote themselves by providing services and tools to protect their business and reach out to their customers. BCA obtains its funding from member businesses who support the mission and purpose of the organization and who agree to abide by high standards of ethical business practices.