The “There’s an app for that” Dilemma

Misc, Privacy Issues

“There’s an app for that”, “Have you tried this awesome app that shows you the name of that distant planet?”: those are common discussions that you can hear between mobile device owners. Like kids, every mobile device owner just want to impress his peer with the latest app that he has installed, bought or tried. Most of the times, this hysteria only stops when the device can’t handle it anymore, or when it becomes so unresponsive since there’s too much application running at the same time.

Do you need/want/wish …? Get an app!

Whether it is a iPhone, and iPad, an iPod, a Samsung Galaxy Tab, or any other android-powered mobile device: the same story goes on: “there’s an app for everything”. Do you want the latest Champion’s League results? Install the app on the air. Do you need to show your photos in a nice way with some nice effects? Get the photo management app and be seen as the best photographer in town.

Have you noticed that for most Apps that you install, you need to register it? This is usually done online. You either create a specific account, or associate popular ones that you already have (usually a Facebook account). Officially, it is presented in such a way that the Apps provider can “remember” your settings, but in fact, this is a huge opportunity for them to know more about you- thereby putting a security breach for your privacy settings.

Now the question is: how do you trust those apps?

Most of the time, you chose an app because:
– it’s awesome since it gives you an opportunity to show off when doing a demo to your friends
– it’s popular: for example, Angry Birds is one of the most popular game, so you may be tempted to install it on your mobile device too,
– your friend has it, so you want to have it too

As you may have noticed it, most of the times, a regular user will only skip any warning, accept any End-User agreement because they want to use the apps the soonest possible (Raise the hands of those who actually fully read the EUL of a Windows software :), it’s just a matter of uninstalling the apps if we don’t need it anymore, isn’t it? Wrong.

Why is it wrong?

First, because that specific EUL may have stipulated things that you may not have accepted. Second, how do you trust that everything has been uninstalled properly? More often than not, uninstalling software always leave some unwanted pieces of it- but the most dangerous thing is: there’s a high risk that the app you installed have left a backdoor open, so even if you “uninstalled” the app, this doesn’t mean that you’re now safe.

The big issue with Smartphones is that your Telco provider charge you by the volume of data you exchange. Installing apps increase your data bill (since some tasks are done in the background), but it may also expose you to some unexpected behaviors (your phone contacts may be stolen for example).

In fact, this brings us to the same questions: how do we secure our Smartphones for privacy purposes? Any tips you want to share? Do you use hide IP tools?

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