Protecting your Android phone when installing apps

Have you ever wondered why apps require specific permissions? Here are some tools to help you make better decisions when installing apps.

Previously, we looked at simple yet effective strategies for safeguarding the information on your phone. Now we will take an Android-centric look at the world of apps and app permissions. Let’s discuss how to screen apps, dig deeper into permissions, and provide a method to put you in the driver’s seat as to what information is being accessed from your device.

Screening apps

Don’t settle for the first app that catches your eye. Take a closer look to ensure that you are getting exactly what you need — no more, no less. Some things to look for include how many downloads the app has (you’ll want to see a relatively large number of downloads), positive user reviews, and the reputation of the developer.

Understanding permissions

Once your app shopping has passed the screening stage, the next step is to understand permissions. The app will alert you to the list of required permissions prior to install.

Reaction to this list is typically twofold:

  1. Hmmm… why do they need access to my Identity and Photos?
  2. Ah well, I’m sure it’s fine. I’ll just go ahead and hit Accept.

Unfortunately, the developer does not necessarily have the user’s interests at heart. Its customer is not us — it is the advertising agencies. To gain a better understanding of the permissions, scroll to the bottom of the screen until you see “Permissions”.

These explanations give a better idea as to why each permission is necessary. If you are still skeptical, visit the webpage for the developer, send an email or post a comment. Reputable developers should respond fairly quickly. You have the option to download an app from a different developer as well.

Google provides an excellent overview of the popular permissions and what each of them is used for under Permission group definitions. Some rather interesting ones include SMS (giving the app the ability to send, receive and read text messages), and Phone (providing the ability to call numbers without your intervention).

Monitoring permissions access — there is an app for that

Given our busy and hectic schedules, it’s highly likely that most people won’t have the time or motivation required to do all of this screening. Wouldn’t it be helpful if there was….an app for that? Well, there is. Apps like MyPermissions will perform scans of your phone, showing how many apps are accessing your location, your contacts and so on. You can decide when to allow or deny the app from accessing data.

Android users will be happy with the release of Android Marshmallow, which, among other things, looks to improve the user permission experience by following an approach similar to iOS. Permissions are asked for on an as-needed basis, instead of all at once at the time of install. This will provide a more flexible and transparent experience for the user.

Remember, the ultimate goal is to reduce the likelihood that you will be a victim of fraud. Isn’t it a great feeling to have more control over who has access to the information on your device?

Keep the conversation going

How do you protect your information from apps? Post a comment below.

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of CPA Canada.

About the Author

Jennifer Schurer, CPA, CMA

Jennifer leads and facilitates workshops on financial literacy as part of the CPA Financial Literacy program. Her passion lies in educating youth about money, including credit cards, mortgages, budgeting and goal setting. She also has an interest in providing education to general audiences on best practices for saving and spending.