First I read the Smartphone Security Information created by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).The ICO is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest. Two documents are available on the page, the first ‘Using apps safely and securely’ and the second ‘Safer Smartphones – A Guide to Keeping your Device Secure’.
There was good advice in these guides, much of which I was aware of , but I’m not always sure how much I follow! I hadn’t really been aware of the contents rating on Apps but that is useful to think about as a parent. I was reminded to look up the IMEI number of my phone, I was aware of this but had forgotten to make a note of the new number when I go a new handset.
Next I went to have a look at the permissions required by Apps on my android phone, and found a few things that surprised me! I was interested to see that an App I installed to collect loyalty points from a restaurant require access to my Contacts, Location, Phone and Storage!
I can see why it might want access to location – to verify if I was in or near a restaurant, but I can’t see why it would ‘need’ access to the other aspects? I’ve turned all the permissions off.
I also found an app called ‘Emergency Alerts’ which I’d no idea was there (I assume it was pre-installed on my handset) – it has permissions set to access Location and SMS and I’m kind of curious to know what it is? After a wee Google I find this is a built in feature http://www.greenbot.com/article/2689993/how-to-change-settings-for-emergency-alerts-on-android-phones.html, which there are setting for within your phone. I find the whole thing kind of creepy? But maybe it’s just because I wasn’t aware it was there. There is also a second App called ‘Motorola Alert‘ which is installed but that I’ve never set up, which will allow me to send an emergency message to contacts and asks them to meet you or follow you and uses GPS to pick up your location. Again the whole idea kind of freaks me out!
I tried the My Permissions App from Google Play – it runs a fancy little animation as it scans tells tells me that 26 Apps threaten my privacy.
This doesn’t sound great! So I look at the details:
Apparently the Cbeebies Playtime App is High Risk ? I’m a bigger believer in the BBC so I find this hard to believe (by the way I’d highly recommend this App – lots of great games pitched at the right level for young children and no in App Adverts or purchases)? All of the functionality it requires is part of the games within the App – taking pictures and videos, recording Audio – I’m willing to Trust this one.
Audible is shown as High Risk – but the permissions for this make sense to me in terms of the Apps functionality.
Amazon Shopping is also marked as High Risk – some of it’s permissions look less justifiable? Why would this App need to take pictures and videos? Or more concerning read my contacts? I’m not going to uninstall this but I’ll go in and look again at the permissions. Actually I do try to uninstall it only to discover this is premium feature of the “My Permissions App” which I can only use if I pay for a £13.99 annual subscription. It makes me a bit skeptical – this product has a vested interest in me thinking I need protected, there is money to be made from this? I found it useful as the interface makes it really easy to see the App permissions, but this App does not seem to recommend most of the Apps I use, and there is not an option within it to adjust permissions, only to trust or uninstall.
I’ve got a fairly long list of Medium Risk Apps but based on the high risk ones, I’m less inclined to take this too seriously.