Draw the Line

How to stop apps from steal­ing your data

Gadgets and Gizmos (India) - - CONTENTS - By Nidhi Sin­gal Il­lus­tra­tion by Raj Verma

DRAW THE LINE

Pri­vacy in the time of data breaches seems il­lu­sory. A look at the Ar­chive file in your Face­book ac­count will cer­tainly have you be­lieve so. It has your com­plete con­tact list, call his­tory, mes­sage his­tory and more. Shock­ingly, this is not done against your con­sent. The list of per­mis­sions granted to the Face­book app (when you down­load it on an An­droid smart­phone) in­cludes ac­cess to al­most ev­ery­thing – cal­en­dar, camera, con­tacts, lo­ca­tion, mi­cro­phone, phone, SMS and stor­age. And this is just Face­book. Most other apps on our phones ask for sim­i­lar per­mis­sions.

In the rush to get that lat­est ‘rec­om­mended’ app on our phone, we tend to over­look pri­vacy con­cerns. Apps by de­fault seek ac­cess to hard­ware as well as our data; most times, not within rea­son. It is un­der­stand­able that a nav­i­ga­tion app like Google Maps re­quires your cur­rent lo­ca­tion to work ef­fec­tively, but why should a flash­light app need ac­cess to your stor­age, lo­ca­tion, mi­cro­phone and con­tacts?

In June 2017, the IMDEA Net­works In­sti­tute in Spain re­vealed that more than 70 per cent of the smart­phone apps re­port per­sonal data to third-party track­ing com­pa­nies. So, how do you pre­vent apps from ac­cess­ing and then mis­us­ing per­sonal data? Start by re­view­ing the per­mis­sions for ev­ery app in­stalled on your smart­phone – keep the gen­uine ones and re­voke the un­nec­es­sary ones.

Here’s a de­tailed guide on how to take con­trol of the ac­cess an app gets on your smart­phone.

For iPhones: The pri­vacy set­ting on the iOS plat­form has been de­signed to keep users’ de­vices, data and Ap­ple ID se­cure. It helps in con­trol­ling what you share and with whom. The ‘Pri­vacy’ op­tion un­der ‘Set­tings’ has a list of per­mis­sions apps usu­ally seek ac­cess to. This in­cludes lo­ca­tion ser­vices, con­tacts, cal­en­dars, re­minders, photo, mi­cro­phone, Blue­tooth shar­ing, speech recog­ni­tion, camera and more. For in­stance: when you tap on ‘Lo­ca­tion Ser­vices’, apps that can and are ac­cess­ing your lo­ca­tion are dis­played. Sim­ply se­lect from op­tions ‘never’, ‘while

for apps that need lo­ca­tion turned on, set the op­tion to only while us­ing the app. Un­der mi­cro­phone, camera, con­tacts and oth­ers, there is a tog­gle that al­lows you to grant or re­voke ac­cess to apps.

Things are slightly dif­fer­ent on the An­droid plat­form be­cause of the cus­tom soft­ware and in­ter­face that hand­set man­u­fac­tur­ers have been adding to the smart­phones. On smart­phones run­ning An­droid 8.0 op­er­at­ing sys­tem, chang­ing the per­mis­sion set­tings is sim­ple. The ‘Set­tings’ app has the ‘App & No­ti­fi­ca­tions’ tab which has a ded­i­cated ‘App Per­mis­sion’ op­tion. It shows all the per­mis­sions ap­pli­ca­tions usu­ally have ac­cess to. The list is long; in­cludes body sen­sors, cal­en­dar, camera, con­tacts, lo­ca­tion, mi­cro­phone, phone, SMS, stor­age and ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion in­clud­ing car in­for­ma­tion, read in­stant mes­sages, re­quest to ac­cess Twit­ter ac­count and write in­stant mes­sages. Each op­tion shows a list of apps that have ac­cess to a par­tic­u­lar fea­ture.

On Xiaomi smart­phones, per­mis­sions can be found un­der the ‘se­cu­rity’ set­ting. You can also type ‘per­mis­sion’ in the search bar of set­tings. If your smart­phone is run­ning on the older ver­sion of An­droid OS, you will have to check per­mis­sions by go­ing into each app. Go to ap­pli­ca­tion man­ager in set­tings, and you will see all the apps on your smart­phone listed there. When deny­ing per­mis­sions to some apps, a prompt stat­ing that the app ‘may not func­tion prop­erly’ if the per­mis­sion is re­voked will ap­pear. That is fine as you can al­ways turn on the per­mis­sion only when us­ing the app.

When down­load­ing newer apps, it is wise to check per­mis­sions be­fore­hand. On iPhones and An­droid smart­phones, a no­ti­fi­ca­tion that the app wants to ac­cess a par­tic­u­lar fea­ture on your phone pops up. You can al­low or deny right then and also change the pref­er­ence from ‘Set­tings’ later. us­ing the app’ and ‘al­ways’ to man­age per­mis­sions. In the writer’s case, there were over 50 apps that wanted to ac­cess cur­rent lo­ca­tion. It is ad­vis­able to deny lo­ca­tion ac­cess to most apps; and

MORE THAN 70 PER CENT SMART­PHONE APPS RE­PORT PER­SONAL DATA TO THIRD-PARTY TRACK­ING COM­PA­NIES, SAYS A RE­PORT FROM IMDEA NET­WORKS IN­STI­TUTE IN SPAIN

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