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Creepy App Permissions Are a Turn-Off for Over 50% of Phone Owners

Steven Blum
10

You know that weather app for Android you wanted to download until you realized it was asking to read and send you text messages, connect to the Internet whenever it wanted and track your location? Well if, at that moment, you wanted to throw your phone out the window, enroll in the Witness Protection Program and relocate to a cave in Kabul, you're not alone.

Turns out, more than half of mobile app users have avoided certain apps "due to concerns about the way personal information is shared or collected by the app," according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

The study, which polled 2,254 adults, also found that 30% of app users have uninstalled an app that was already on their cell phone because they learned it was collecting personal information they didn't want to share.

I'm not sure what app developers can learn from this. 30% seems like a pretty high uninstall rate, until you realize it means that a smartphone owner has only copped to uninstalling one app, during the entire history of their smartphone use. Considering the fact that the average number of installed apps in the U.S. is somewhere around 29, simply deleting one app doesn't seem like such a big deal.

But any survey which seems to support the notion that app developers should be paying closer attention to the creepy permissions they demand from smartphone owners is a survey I can get behind. Devs: folks aren't going to buy your donkey calendar app if it wants to track a phone's location. That really isn't worth it to consumers. Like, no one is going to be like, "Oooh, this app reads all my text messages but the donkeys in this calendar are just soooo cute! I have to buy it immediately." Likely, they'll unfavorably review your app on Google Play with lots of exclamation points. Conclusion: find a new revenue source.

Smartphone owners: keep doing what you're doing. Some of those apps out there are way creepy. 

Comments

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  • Patrick R. Sep 12, 2012 Link

    Good article. Anyone who owns a smartphone should be aware of potential privacy intrusions by apps and their devs.

    Android should integrate a lockdown feature in security settings. Something like MIUI, a pop up window opens each time an app makes a request to access contact lists, phone, sms, the net etc. That way you know when the app accesses your phone, and does it do it on regular intervals even if it's supposedly not running.

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  • Yuriy Zhyromskiy Sep 12, 2012 Link

    And users still want to be notified when they are around a place where meeting from calendar supposed to be... Probably there is a reason to put such permissions. You need to look at comments on app, other apps of same dev and description/homepage of app to decide to install or not to install particular app. There is no silver bullet here. You aren't winning if you ignore just perfect app that uses more than average amount of permissions.

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  • Anna F. Sep 12, 2012 Link

    Um, guys... A weather app NEEDS to track your location and access the Internet. How else is it going to give you the right weather report for the place you are? Weather apps update their statuses every 30 mins/1 hour/2 hours etc so of course they need to access the Internet "whenever they want". If you stop and think about an app's permissions, you'll realize they're usually rational.

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  • Tom Harder Sep 12, 2012 Link

    @Yuriy and Anna
    In general I agree with your comments. Perhaps the example in the article was not the best.

    Yes a weather app needs location and yes it needs internet access. But the question then becomes does it need access to read text messages? Does it need access to my contacts? Does it need access to the audio path? Those are the questionable permissions that users are concerned about.

    As someone familiar with the technology I can usually figure out why an app may need certain permissions but the average user may not be so familiar with the system. I personally shy away from apps with questionable permissions unless they also provide legitimate explanations of why they need that permission.

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  • Yuriy Zhyromskiy Sep 12, 2012 Link

    @Tom That's exactly what I want to say. Just think before install. Article instead blames devs who put extra permissions in some way. I agree, there are many fishing apps along the market, but devs mostly want to improve user experience and interconnect data from other available sources to achieve best results.

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  • Steven Blum Sep 12, 2012 Link

    Anna, weather apps can always ask for your location. Tracking your whereabouts within a city is unnecessary so long as it knows your general area (unless you're in San Francisco, where it rains in one part of the city and is sunny in another).

    But I see your point; perhaps that wasn't the best example. You should get the gist though: often, app permissions are sometimes invasions of privacy. While sometimes devs need the info for obvious app functions, other times they sell the information to third parties for marketing purposes. "If the app is free, you are the product they're selling."

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  • Anna F. Sep 12, 2012 Link

    I agree with you. It drives me crazy when I read an angry review in the Play Store that looks kinda like this: "DON'T DOWNLOAD! It asks for permission to access the Internet although it's just a period calendar so it doesn't need the Internet! It must be a VIRUS!!!" even though the app explicitly states the app is ad supported. -.-"

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  • Steven Blum Sep 12, 2012 Link

    A virus would be much, much worse. :)

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  • red Sep 12, 2012 Link

    Then the question is, how to uninstall a core program that permissions ask for something you don't want it to do? -yes, I know, root then rom it. But for the average user, they're stuck.

    As far as a weather app tracking, not for me. I'll tell it what city I want reports for.

    I am finding it a good fight tho. I've rooted, I just have to figure out how to get the core apps to behave the way I want them to. Mostly, to do nothing and don't run in the background.

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  • Donsaibot Sep 13, 2012 Link

    I use LBE Security Master for that. But most people don't have root or even now what that means. Would be great if such a feature was already included in Android.

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