For Apps, Personal Data is a Must

By Daksha Devnani, Epoch Times
April 7, 2013 2:37 am Last Updated: April 9, 2013 3:29 pm

Despite the fact that many smartphone users may feel uneasy about apps gaining access to personal information such as location and contacts, there is really no way to avoid the issue. Personal data enhances the functionality and usefulness of apps, so a majority of developers program an app’s access to data into the design. 

For example, a to-do list app may require access to location data. Whenever the user approaches a relevant location, he or she is reminded by the app to check an item off a to-do list. If the user opts out and turns the handset’s location data off, he or she misses out on the full experience, said Sanjiv Bhalla, a news app developer and a staff member of The Epoch Times.

News apps also frequently require access to the user’s location. This is mainly done to allow the app to serve up local news, explained Bhalla. 

The amount of data that is accessed differs from app to app, said Phalgun Gujjar, a technical expert who works at Philips in India. It is also important to understand that a higher level of access to personal data is required to enable apps with greater functionality. 

Whatsapp is a cross-platform mobile messaging app that allows users to exchange messages, and share photos and videos for free. Whatsapp requires access to a user’s photo gallery in order to share photos, and taps into the user’s contact list to send the photos. 

A particularly sensitive data, authenticated data such as email addresses and phone numbers, are often saved within the app to make it quicker to open without entering in the authenticated data again. 

Certain news subscriptions also require credit card numbers. The user is especially advised to make sure that it is a well-known and trusted app before entering in these details. 

The most important thing is to use discretion while downloading an app, said Bhalla. It is important to know a little bit about the app before downloading it. It is also helpful to understand who or what organization has created the app, and how it has been hosted in the app store. 

Apple’s app market for iPhones is a closed market where apps are scanned and registered. If any data is misused, Apple can be held accountable. Android’s app market, on the other hand, is an open market, so it is even more important to check the facts before downloading, Bhalla said.

The biggest threat to users comes from rogue apps, which are particularly prevelant in the android market. Rogue apps may clandestinely try to collect private information such as Facebook login details, email addresses, phone numbers, and location coordinates. This information may then be transmitted over the Internet to a range of advertising brokers and analytics firms, according to the information published on the website of global mobile security leader AdaptiveMobile.

Users really need to look out for rogue apps, or they may not be aware of the trouble that they are getting themselves into, Bhalla said. 

To avoid being deceived into downloading a rogue app, it is important to read user reviews before downloading. Also, it is helpful to read the the license agreement which should outline how much and what kind of data will be accessed. One should opt to download only well-known apps with transparent license agreements.

Many apps legitimately require access to personal data. The main issues are how much of the data is needed to run the app’s functionality, and whether or not the app will misuse the data. 

According to Bhalla, photo editing apps typically look into a user’s photo gallery to analyze what kind of person the user is, and this is mainly done to build the developers database. This database is used to market and promote the app, said Bhalla, adding that it is essential that the developer inform the user about this practice and its purpose.