Analysis Tech

Alright society, we need to talk about apps

Specifically, we need to talk about application permissions. Android apps, Apple apps, all the apps. Do you have any idea what the various apps on your phone are actually allowed to do?

Let’s start with the flashlight apps. Who remembers when smartphones first came out and there was no “flashlight” option that turned your camera flash into a toggle switch? I sure do. I remember downloading a flashlight app for that handy feature. This is how the most successful malware works — it gives you a working feature, but does a whole bunch of stuff under the covers that you really don’t want it to be doing. The TL;DR version is that a number of flashlight apps waited for you to login to banking websites and harvested your login credentials. But it gave you a flashlight! This is one of the worst case scenarios, but there are many others that tell you that they are here to help, all while siphoning your data to remote servers.

This comes from our general collective apathy to what data gets collected about us and what it’s used for. Going back to one of my pieces on why we suck at cyber security, convenience is a huge reason. As long as the hackers don’t have it, why care, right? Does the same statement hold true when you realize that your social media apps have the ability to intercept everything that you see and even prevent you from seeing certain things?

Enter Instagram

This is what the SMS permission actually gives Instagram access to. Sure, you could manually disable the permissions that you don’t want to grant, but what percentage of the public actually reviews the requested/approved permissions for their phone applications? Hint: It’s pretty tiny.

Let’s take it a step further…

Okay cool, so now Instagram can now collect and prevent the text messages that we send and receive, record via the microphone whenever it wants, and a myriad of other things (I won’t get into the GPS permissions as that one is pretty self-explanatory). You, as the user, agreed to this when you “agree” to their terms of use agreement simply by using the app (you know, that ridiculously long legal agreement that NO ONE has the time, much less the interest to read).

Why does this matter?

Maybe I’m blowing this out of proportion. Maybe I shouldn’t care what for-profit companies collect on me and resell said collected information for. Maybe I shouldn’t care about my personal privacy and just accept the personalized marketing world that our corporate overlords desire for us. Or, maybe I feel that I want my data and personal information to remain mine.

I won’t start the philosophical debate that is the privacy war (you know, the “I have nothing to hide” side versus the “You have no right to see my information” side), but in this age, it is up to us as the consumers to fight for our privacy. If you don’t care, that’s fine, that’s your prerogative. If you do, however, I highly encourage you to start taking a deeper look into how your information is used.

Google seems to share this concern, which I am personally happy to see. Recently, they have embarked on removing thousands of apps that require access to various phone and SMS permissions, taking care of some of this for the user. That’s only scratching the surface, however.

How can users be more aware?

App companies hate this one simple trick!

The screenshots that I took above are from going into the application settings to review specific application permissions. I encourage everyone to review these settings (note that some apps don’t request the permissions until you try to do certain things in the app, such as take a picture or record video).

On Android:
1) Open your “Settings” app
2) Open “Apps & notifications”
3) Click the “See all ### apps”
4) Click on an app of interest
5) Click on “Permissions”
6) Restrict as desired!
Note: You may need to click the three dot menu in the upper right and then click “All permissions” to see everything, depending on app.

On Apple:
1) Open your “Settings” app
2) Click on the “Privacy” section
3) Click on any permission from the list that you want to review to see which apps have that permission
4) Restrict as desired!
Note: I don’t have an Apple device, so this is how you get there to the best of my knowledge.

Photos courtesy of the author, StoryBlocks, and Pixabay.

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JoniS
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JoniS

Good advice. I’ve actually deleted a few apps I thought were getting to intimate with my info and I couldn’t find a way to restrict the permissions. Instagram irritates me. It’s like a bad date that you keep telling no. I’m certain I have some app listening to me because I saw commercials for something I was talking about recently. Commercials I’ve never seen before…. Fishy, fishy, fishy, now if I can just find the offending app. It’s creepy that your phone can listen to you. I finally got a lap top that has no camera.. yes, no camera. Weird… Read more »

homanj1
Member

Alex-I just went into my iPhone privacy settings and found one app had access to my photos. Not anymore. It was for Regal Theaters of all weird apps. Why they need my photos I have no idea. I don’t do most social media. But Ive noticed I can find photos of my kids and grandkids doing stupid things from their Facebook accounts by merely searching their name in a common app like Google……thanks for the advice.

Miche
Member
Miche

I like the nuances some apps are willing to provide…. like Uber accessing my gps only when I’m using the app. (Whether that actually works I don’t know, but it’s an option.) My favorite feature to turn off is the push-notices… don’t call me, Mr. App, I’ll call you. I tend to go through the settings every few months just to free up memory by offloading certain apps or allowing them only to work when I have wi-fi access so they don’t chew up my data (and figuring out why they need access to cell phone data anyhow if I’m… Read more »

rynobucket
Guest
rynobucket

Brilliant. I needed the reminder. I had some new sneaky and unnecessary permissions enabled since last time I checked. Right on Alex!

Mic-Mac
Member
Mic-Mac

Thank you Alex, great reminder that I need to go in and check my permissions. When an app updates, do the settings sometimes reset to default?

Imas C.
Guest
Imas C.

Thanks for this information, I will be sharing this article with my family! Any idea what Instagram gains from intercepting our text messages?

Susan B
Member

Thanks, Alex. I’m happy that I have a way to go through all my apps on my phone and secure them or flat out get rid of those I don’t want to keep.

Mason
Member
Mason

Alex, on some things I fall into the “I have nothing to hide”, which is fine, as long as sensitive information can’t be compromised. In your example, login information is stolen from a smart phone, while banking. Because of how apps access everything on the iPhone/Android, I have nothing on my smart phone for banking, instagram, password keeper etc. That is the line I don’t cross. I am surprised anyone puts anything of real privacy, or managing of assets on any type of smart device. So you are calling out the things that need called out, privacy does need protected,… Read more »

homanj1
Member

Alex-Our entire system had a stroke last Saturday apparently. Our phones operate through our desktops. So we had no info, no phones. No access to email. No access to calendars. Awesome……

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