Don’t be outsmarted by smart phone Apps

By Dale Dixon/ BBB’s Trust Evangelist

Smart phone apps can make life easier, putting dozens of useful tools in the palm of your hand. But Better Business Bureau warns to make sure the apps you download don’t take more information than needed to do the job.

In a recent settlement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 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 users 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 urges 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;
  •  Check privacy settings, periodically, 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.

I need to take a moment to reiterate the second bullet point. It’s so easy to click the accept button when all that tiny print appears on the screen. I have a favorite saying: “The large print giveth. The tiny print taketh away.” Yes, it seems laborious to read the privacy policy and user agreements, but it’s the surest way to understand your level of exposure and the invasion of privacy you face when loading an app.

Bottom line: Load only the apps you’ll use and fully understand the information each app collects and shares.


1 Comment

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One response to “Don’t be outsmarted by smart phone Apps

  1. Pingback: Don’t get caught in Snapchat breach; update your personal devices | snakeriverBBB

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