Friday, May 18, 2012

Exposing Yourself

This article is a continuation of my previous one where we talked about a couple of ways you may be exposing yourself.  . . .Get your head out of the gutter!  I mean your “computer” self. This is a very big subject and I’ve got much to say so without further ado:

Have you downloaded apps from the Android or Apple “App” store?  If so, you’ve certainly had to “agree” to the little pop-up that often informs you of what the application will be able to do on your phone. I bet a dollar that most of you simply click “OK” without reading the stuff. Even if you do read it, you might not fully grasp what it’s telling you - that’s me.

Take the fairly innocuous “Weather Channel” (TWC) application. I love the app. It’s pretty, useful, user-friendly and works nicely. But before you can download it from the Android market, you have to agree with their terms. Those terms include:

“STORAGE: This application can modify/delete data on your SD card.”  That’s cool. The app has to download new data and replace old data. No harm there so let’s move on.

“YOUR LOCATION: This application will track where you are.”  That’s ok since the application needs to know where you are so it can tell you what the weather is at your location.

Here’s a tricky one. “SERVICES THAT COST YOU MONEY. This application can call numbers and send text messages without my intervention.” Now why in the world would The Weather Channel need permission to call numbers and send text messages? A bit of investigation reveals that the app uses ads. These ads are clickable. When you click on one, the app can prompt you to either call the advertiser or send them a text. That’s cool.

And another questionable one: “HARDWARE CONTROLS. This app can record audio and take pictures and video.” This sounds a bit scary until you consider the fact that the app allows you to record audio and video and upload that directly to TWC so others can see the weather you are experiencing.

But the last one is really disconcerting. It says “PERSONAL INFORMATION. This app can change calendar events.” Now why in the world would the Weather Channel need access to my calendar? After a great deal of research, I found that the app can allow you to check the weather for a location specified in your calendar.

There are many reports of apps that actually do “steal” your data but for the most part, apps from “legitimate” companies like TWC can generally be trusted. But that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. Just realize that an app that takes pictures needs access to your hardware. Netflix needs to keep your screen awake for the 90 minutes you're not touching the screen. A ringer mode widget needs access to your settings. When you come across something you don’t understand, usually a bit of deductive reasoning can figure out why an app needs to do something. If not, read comments in the Market or App Store, and ask questions in the forums. Call me. Be skeptical.

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