Warning about smart phone apps

August 2, 2010 4:32:12 PM PDT
Smart phones can do a whole lot more than your normal cell phone, from finding the closest coffee shop to playing free games, but there may be more to the apps on your phone than you know. A recent survey of apps found a large number include tracking software that users may not know anything about. There are nearly a half million apps available for smart phone users. Recently it was learned some of those apps may be sending back data on you and your habits without your knowledge.

Smart phone users seem to have an app for everything. Victoria Tejeda and Cynthia Niemeyer are especially attracted to the free apps.

"Most of them are free," Tejeda said. "I usually don't pay for apps."

Tejeda and Niemeyer say they never research the apps they download, but maybe they should. A mobile phone security company has started looking closer at smart phone apps and found some apps have the ability to access a user's location and contact information. Some apps have code embedded in them that may allow the app to share information with a third party.

Niemeyer said, "I'm going to really think about it before I download an app from now on."

Lookout Inc, the company that is investigating apps, says at this point it does not appear the apps are doing anything malicious, so how worried should smart phone users be?

Jay Lee, host of Technology Bytes, said, "I don't think the scare factor is that high right now. I think with the attention that this is bringing to the issue, it will be up to Apple and to Google to respond to that."

Lee hosts a local technology radio show. He says most apps ask for your permission to follow your habits and most smart phone users are agreeing.

"It's been granted the permissions that it says it needs to do what it says it is going to do," he explained.

Lee says as long as smart phone users know the app is collecting data, it's OK. But if apps are doing so without permission, that's a problem.

Lee said, "There's not a real easy way to see where this information is going or what is being done with that data."

Google has suspended some apps after the report came out. If you have apps and want to see what those apps are tracking, you can do it by checking the application manager for each app.

How can you avoid getting an app that tracks you without your knowledge? We're told avoiding free apps from sites you have never heard of is a good start. Also research the apps before you download them.


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