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10 December 2015

Why apps want to know everything about you

Apps often ask access to your photos, location and contacts. Disclaimers displayed when apps are downloaded are hardly ever read, but people do like to use the additional options they might offer. This is convenient and dangerous at the same time as personal details on a smartphone can end up in the hands of the app makers or third parties very easily. Where do we draw the line between user-friendliness and privacy sensitivity?

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There are a multitude of applications that make life easier. There are now for instance apps that can adjust the thermostat or dim the lights in your house. There are also apps for modern cars that allows you to read all of the car’s data: tyre pressure, fuel level or battery status.

The downside of control

All of these apps offer some convenient functionalities, but they also have a downside. The app from the car manufacturer also wants access to the photo gallery on the phone, without the user being aware of what the app does with that data. Such requests often do have a function, for instance you have to be able to forward a photo through that specific app in the event of a breakdown. That does not mean the app maker is constantly looking at your photos, it merely enables the user to send photos when he needs to.

Service engineers can also use a mobile application to view work orders and change statuses. For example, when a service engineer notices an expansion tank needs maintenance, he can report it and add a photo. This is very convenient, but it does mean the app requires access to the photo gallery that holds the photo.

Difference between operating systems

There is for that matter a considerable difference in terms of permissions between various operating systems on mobile devices. iOS gives end users more options when it comes to permissions. With Android, you are asked once to accept all permissions whilst installing, while iOS gives you the opportunity to select the rights for each app after installation.

iOS asks you if an app can use your camera or location, for instance. If you decide against it, you can still use the app, but not the functionality for which that permission was required. You can still change it in the settings later on. Android does not give you that option: it’s all or nothing. If you do not agree with certain permissions, you will not be able to install the app.

App as an extension of business software

More and more organisations see apps as a serious activity and an app often is an extension of the business software. For developers of professional apps, quality and security come first, simply because they will determine how successful the app will be. The safer the app, the better it is for the user; the more often the app is used, the better it is for the developer.

Thus paying close attention to privacy is in the interest of developers of apps for professional environments. The dangers lurk in private apps such as games, social media, photography apps that may have access to the same sources on the mobile device as the business applications. It is therefore wise to regularly check the privacy settings on a smartphone: examples are authorisations and security.

Employers do not always point this out, the responsibility often lies with the user. Fortunately, there is always the option of deleting an app.

Vincent Henricks
Product Manager Integrated Services Management