In the wake of pervasive data privacy breaches and pressure on app stores from capitol hill, the FTC is making its own play to help educate consumers about apps and the privacy implications associated with downloading them.
The FTC launched Onguard Online, a Web site dedicated to giving consumers practical advice to help them protect against Internet fraud, secure their computers, and keep their information private online.
The site features online games, quizzes, and expert commentary–all intended to teach consumers about security, privacy and the Internet.
In the mobile apps section, Onguard gives practical tips about mobile apps.
- On what types of data an app can access – “Some apps may be able to access your phone and email contacts, call logs, internet data, calendar data, data about the device’s location, the device’s unique IDs, and information about how you use the app itself. Some apps access only the data they need to function, but others access data that’s not related to the purpose of the app.”
- On what companies may do with that data – “If you’re providing information when you’re using the device, someone may be collecting it – whether it’s the app developer, the app store, an advertiser or an ad network. And if they’re collecting your data, they may share it with other companies.”
- How can you tell what data apps will access or share – Onguard explains that there’s no easy way to tell which data the apps will access. It says to always be aware of the company from which you’re buying an app, and to read about that company in the app stores before downloading. It also added: “If you’re using an Android operating system, you will have an opportunity to read the “permissions” just before you install an app. Do it. It’s useful information that tells you what information the app will access on your device. Ask yourself whether the permissions make sense given the purpose of the app; for example, there’s no reason for an e-book or “wallpaper” app to read your text messages.”
- On why some apps collect location data – “Some apps use specific location data to give you maps, coupons for nearby stores, or information about who you might know nearby. Some provide location data to ad networks, which may combine it with other information in their databases to target ads based on your interests and your location.” The site also explains that you can turn of your location services in your smartphone’s settings, which prohibit companies from accessing it.
- On Apps and Malware – “Some hackers have created apps that can infect phones and mobile devices with malware. If your phone sends email or text messages that you didn’t write, or installs apps that you didn’t download, those could be signs of malware.” To remove malware you can contact customer support for your device, contact your carrier, or download apps which scan your phone and remove malware-infected apps.