6 Ways to Help Ensure Mobile App Privacy

August 8, 2019 - 2:30pm
By: 
Falan Casanova
6 Ways to Help Ensure Mobile App Privacy

If you opened up social media last month, whether it was Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, there’s a good chance that your timeline was full of pictures of your family and friends aged as 75-year-olds. These entertaining photos were a product of FaceApp, a mobile face-editing application that took the world of social media by storm for a whole week before people started to question the privacy of the app. Of course, as soon as the FaceApp was at its peak, the huge buzz-worthy topic of mobile app privacy got thrown into the equation.

Questions such as “Did you read the privacy policy?” came up along with the mention of Russia and everyone started to panic. If you haven’t had a chance to read further into this scandal, this article by Forbes can give you a quick rundown and better understanding as to why people were concerned. The Democratic National Committee even sent out a warning stating that everyone needed to delete the app as soon as possible due to FaceApp’s questionable privacy policies. Overall, I understood what all of the privacy policy hype was about, but it also made me question why it took this specific scandal for people to finally realize how intrusive our mobile apps actually are. The truth is, every app that we use on our phones has endless amounts of our personal information. We might claim that we care about our privacy, but at the end of the day we don’t quite understand how mobile apps can obstruct our privacy. It’s arguable that we gladly hand over our data if it means enjoying whatever service the app brings. I would love to know how many people have actually read through an entire privacy policy of an app. (If you have, kudos to you!) However, most of us just check yes to those agreement terms without second guessing it. If you’re at all concerned about your digital privacy, here are 6 things you can do to ensure that your mobile apps are safer and more private.

1. Pay Attention When Granting Permissions Within the App 

When you first download an app, one of the first things it makes you do is accept or decline permissions. This is where the privacy policies come in! Once installed, apps are pretty much continuously sending sensitive user data such as your location, photos and microphone information. The apps then send this information to ad networks and data brokers, as well as companies such as Amazon and Google. Users aren’t aware of this going on but even if they were, there’s no good way to know exactly where the information is ending up. 

Here’s an example of your app user data being sent to and used by large companies that you can likely relate to. When you search for a piece of clothing from a specific retail store, and then later see an ad for that specific item on one of your social media timelines and/or on the page of another website, that’s due to the information that the apps are constantly collecting from you. We all tend to say yes to permissions on an app because we want to get the app running as soon as possible, but it’s always a good idea to take a minute or two and read through these permissions rather than just ignore them all together. An app might be “free” in the app store, but you are definitely paying a price by releasing all of your private information. If you have apps that you already use on your phone, you can always go to Settings → Privacy → and change any previously granted permissions on your apps. This article by iMore is a great resource if you’re wanting to dive deeper into learning how to manage these permissions and the information that your apps are sending out. 

2. Passwords - Set Up Two-Factor Authentication 

You should definitely consider getting into the routine of setting up a second way to identify yourself. This is where two-factor authentication comes into play. In most cases, the second authentication, after your password, is a numeric code that will be sent to you via email or text message. This numeric code can only be used once and will expire after a few minutes. Major apps, such as Facebook, are big on two-step authentication. If it’s ever something offered within an app, use it! It’s a great way to ensure that no one else is getting into your apps. At Texas Creative, all of our social media managers set up two-factor authentication to ensure the safety of the client accounts we manage.

Bonus Tip: In addition to two-factor authentication, you should also be creating unique passwords for each service that you log into and avoid reusing the same one. Using a password manager like LastPass can make the process of remembering your unique passwords easy and secure. Many people on the Texas Creative team use this application, and they rave about it! 

3. VPN on Public WiFi

People are always looking for the closest source of WiFi in order to save their own data from being drained throughout the day. If you are someone who likes to connect to public coffee shops, for example, it might be a good idea to invest in a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This can help prevent people from lurking on your phone in public networks. The Apple App Store and the Google Play store have some VPN apps that are free, but make sure you read the practices before using them. Of course, the best VPN networks are not free. So, if this is something you want to look into, don’t be afraid to dive deep and do a little research on it. This article has some good tips for selecting a trustworthy VPN

4. Research the App or Company (If you’re really hardcore about app privacy) 

There’s not much that you can’t discover on the internet these days, so don’t overlook this option when you want to be positive whether an app is trustworthy or not. According to this article, experts suggest searching the name of the app on Google as well as the phrase “data scandal” or “scam” and the results should tell you if the company has experienced any recent privacy issues or data leaks.

5. Keep Apps Up to Date 

This is a pretty straight forward tip, but there are some people out there that put this off as long as they can. If you’re one of those people, I’m screaming at you with this tip. By simply keeping your phone apps up to date, you can be one step ahead of the hackers. Their hacker methods are constantly evolving, so it only makes sense that the security of our mobile apps should be as well.

6. ONLY Download Apps from Google and Apple’s App Store 

Unless you are confident of the source, side-loading apps (apps that aren’t downloaded from the Google or Apple store) increases your risk of virus since the app is not first vetted by Apple or Google. Just to be clear, most side-loaded apps are safe, and it’s rare that you will come across one that will give you a virus, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. This is why tip #4 is really important. No matter where the app comes from, even if it is downloaded from the Google or Apple store, you should always double check the safety. 

To wrap this up, mobile app privacy is something that is always going to be an issue. This generation is highly dependent on our mobile devices, and the people who want to go in and hack our devices are only getting smarter. We might not know a lot about what’s happening within our apps, but these 6 steps can ensure you a greater amount of privacy and security within them. If you have any other questions regarding this topic, reach out to our social and digital media team here at Texas Creative or leave your questions/concerns in the comments below. We are always staying up-to-date on the social media and digital media industry, and we would love to help you learn more about it as well.  

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