By Xinye Ji
Privacy on the internet has always been tricky. For some people, privacy is of the utmost important, they refrain from using any sort of online service that can aggregate information. (Like Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
On the other hand, many are oblivious to the issue, unaware that many phone apps ask for very intrusive permissions that most likely compromises your privacy. So in this blog post, I’ll be going over the Android permissions and what to think when apps ask to do certain things.
So in Android, there are nine major permission groups that developers can request when you’re running your app:
- Phone (calls)
This permission is pretty self-explanatory. Applications that need to create meetings, calls, appointments or anything else that you’d like to plan need this permission to write to your phone’s calendar. (like a calendar app, go figure)
Aside from calendar apps, I’m not entirely sure other apps would need this permission. A red flag would definitely go up for me in that scenario.
This is also a straightforward permission. If your app needs to use a camera, it needs to ask for the permission. A red flag would be if you can’t think of a scenario where the app needs to use your camera.
Typically this is with paired with the phone (call) permission. I would personally be very weary about this permission, as many services, such as Facebook, have a tendency to upload your contacts to the cloud when you enable this permission.
I am also pretty weary about this permission. With the exception of apps like Google Maps, there are very few apps that I would trust with my location.
I think this is similar to the camera permission. Use some critical thinking. If there isn’t an obvious reason why the app would need to use your microphone, think twice about allowing the permission.
Apps rarely need this permission, but if you enable it, it could allow apps to randomly dial other people! Make sure that you trust the apps that ask for this!
Now this permission is a bit tricky, as it varies from phone to phone. Basically this permission allows developers to access motion and environmental sensors. For example, this app uses the accelerometer to see if the phone is in free fall. Typically this permission is less sinister when it comes to protecting your personal information however, so I’m not sure what red flags could be thrown in this case.
Similar to the phone call permission, this is a texting permission. If you’re not sure why the app would need to send text, it’s better to not allow it.
This is probably one of the hardest permissions to gauge. Any time you need to save a photo or a file of some sort, apps need to ask for this permission. However, this could also allow apps to snoop in your system files and do other questionable things with your information! Unfortunately, many many apps require this permission, so it is quite hard to tell who to trust. My advice would be to make sure that the companies behind these apps are trustworthy.
A Developer’s Responsibility
One of the odd things about software development and engineering is the discussion of ethics in the community. From the perspective of a developer, I would hope that users would give me all kinds of permissions to use on their phone so I can bring great features that hopefully improve their everyday lives. However, it is very easy to cross a line that people generally are not comfortable with for the sake of new technology. I believe that it is a developer’s responsibility to consider these ethical dilemmas.
However, the phone app industry is relatively new. These boundaries and ethics will most definitely be tested and defined in the future. In the meantime, I highly recommend everyone to consider their own privacy until then.