BBB warning: Smart phone apps might share your information

Electronic devices are great holiday gifts. Smart phones top the list of gifts being handed out, along with the software and apps needed to run them properly.

Smart phone apps can make life easier, putting dozens of useful tools in the palm of your hand. But BBB is warning consumers to make sure the apps they download don’t take more information than they need to do the job.ID-100148285

In a recent settlement by the Federal Trade Commission, the agency found that a flashlight app’s privacy policy had deceived users into sharing their geographic location and device information with advertising networks and other third parties. “Brightest Flashlight Free,” developed by Goldenshores Technologies, LLC, is one of the most popular apps on Android mobile devices and has been downloaded more than 10 million times.

However, according to the FTC, the company’s privacy policy told consumers that any information collected by the app would be used by the company, and listed some categories of information that it might collect, including geographic location. The privacy policy failed, however, to mention that this private information would be released to third parties. The complaint also involved the company collecting information as soon as users opened the app, even before accepting or refusing the terms of the privacy policy.

Goldenshores Technologies has agreed to settle the FTC charges. The settlement goes on to prohibit the company from misrepresenting how users’ information is collected and shared and how much control users have over the way the information is shared. It also requires defendants to get consumers’ affirmative express consent before collecting, using and sharing information.

It’s not always easy to tell if an app is going to collect your information or how it will use it. BBB is urging smart phone users to:

  • Research companies and apps before downloading, including industry publications and user reviews;
  • Read the full privacy policy (and, on Android phones, the “Permissions” screen);
  • Opt out of location sharing when prompted;
  • Periodically check all privacy settings on your smart phone and keep them set as high as you can without altering the functions of your apps (some apps, like maps and compasses, need geo-location information to work properly);
  • Update your apps when a new version comes out (your phone should alert you); often app updates fix “bugs” from earlier versions;
  • Delete apps you no longer use from your phone.

For information on apps for children, check out BBB’s Children’s Advertising Review Unit.

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1 Comment

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One response to “BBB warning: Smart phone apps might share your information

  1. Mark Burrows

    Smartphones and Tablets are no different than your computer. You should know by now that one of the first things you do when you get a computer with the intentions of going online is to acquire protection in the way of anti virus software. Same thing goes for other security precautions, they must be observed. It is critical to read the manual and understand the security settings provided by the device itself. Some devices have some good built in features and if you start adding apps you will run into conflict problems because you cannot remove the internal settings.
    Point being is that if you purchased an app to do something that your device already does, you spent money for nothing and have to remove the new app.
    This is why I usually try to download my apps on my computer, copy them and then transfer them to my device in case I have to dump it, I still have the app that might come in useful on another device. But it’s not always that easy.
    Also keep in mind, that for every app you add for security purposes is likely going to be running in the background and cause increased battery drain. I suggest that for every app you add, remove one or two other apps that are not essential to your device. In fact, it is a good idea to strip down as many apps as is allowed as soon as you get the device, as they always provide some kind of bundle.
    Security must be your first priority. Trust only the apps that are products from the families of software that you use on your computer. If no such app appears in any of the app stores, go directly to the software manufacture’s site and make an inquiry stating your device and the Operating System of your device. It is possible they will provide you with a free beta version and ask you to test it, but please, don’t ask for one. They may already have an app for your device but have not released it yet to any third party distributors.
    Once you are confident and knowledgeable about the security of your device then happy app hunting.

    Mark Burrows

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