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We use a lot of different apps these days. Some of them we rely on. Others we find convenient from time to time. Yet others we download to try out then forget about. They’re just apps, mostly for fun, a few for keeping things organized and staying in touch. But they do things in the background that can be very dangerous to our privacy. We need to know what app permissions mean so we can make informed decisions about which ones we are willing to take risks on.
What Do App Permissions Mean?
You may have wondered lately why the Facebook Messenger app asks for permission to control your camera and microphone. You may be concerned that a game wants access to your contacts and Internet. Some require these app permissions for legitimate reasons while others pose privacy risks. Here is a rundown of some common app permissions and what they really do.
We don’t really like any app permission that accesses our photos or camera. Some files may be very sensitive, and really, why the need to use the camera? Well, apps that can share photos need to use the camera to access them. And app permissions to access the camera allow the apps to save photos as well. Other apps that need to use your camera are scanners and games that use your real surroundings.
Microphone app permissions are spooky because we have heard how the NSA can use phone microphones to listen in on phone conversations. It is possible for this app permission to allow remote access to turn the mic on and off. But this doesn’t mean that any app that asks this is going to spy on you. If the app you are using is voice activated or needs to hear or send or record audio files, then it needs to control your mic. Examples are voice calling and apps that write what you say or identify songs that are playing. Facebook Messenger uses the microphone for audio chat.
Phone status app permissions also sound creepy. But mostly these app permissions just tell another running app when it needs to pause so you can take a call or read a text message. An app may of course manipulate this to keep tabs on what you’re doing. But that doesn’t really tell them much. Phone identity app permissions are creepier. This allows the app to identify the phone, and therefore the user as well. We would of course prefer not to share our identities unless we have to. But some apps would like to determine if you are a legitimate user and not using the same app on different phones and tablets.
A lot of apps ask to know your location even when it seems that this has nothing to do with what the app does. This can be risky because it opens people up to possible physical danger and robbery. If your app is not maps app or other location service, you should be concerned. Check for opt out with these types of app permissions if you really want to use the app.
Access to contacts is an app permission that can lead to all your friends getting spammed or apps making phone calls charged to you. Messaging apps and social media services may want to have this app permission to check who you know using the same app. Otherwise, the red flags should go up. A lot of people have been victimized by this app permission both financially and privacy wise.
With all of the above app permissions, caution is always advised. If you think that the app has no real reason to access certain things on your phone, be diligent and find out why the app wants access. If you can’t get a good reason, you should consider not using the app at all. Ultimately, it is really your decision whether or not to take the risk. And in any case, you should always log on to a VPN service before using any app that connects to the Internet.