Have you ever found a new, exciting app and without hesitation clicked yes on that pop up asking for access to your contacts, microphone, camera, or even location without reading the privacy policy or checking the default security settings after installation?  If so, you are likely oversharing your data.

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App security and data privacy have been hot topics since the announcement of Facebook’s 2018 data breach affecting 87 million users . This breach caused many consumers to ask questions about mobile app permissions like ‘What information is collected?’, ‘Is it shared?’ ‘If so, with who and why?’

Enter Privacy Policies.  An apps privacy policy will answer these very questions.  While reviewing the privacy policy does take an average of 10 minutes, it could prevent a major headache in the future.  For example, if you are unaware that your favorite app Color Your Pet is sharing your data with the third-party BowWow Bargains, who is then breached, your data would be exposed without you even knowing.

So, what should you do to keep your and your family’s data safe when it comes to mobile apps? Here are a few recommendations from the Federal Trade Commission and Cyber Security & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

Before You Install an App

  • Use official app stores. To reduce the risk of installing potentially harmful apps, download apps only from official app stores, such as your device’s manufacturer or operating system app store (Apple App Store, Windows App Store, Google Play, etc.). Also, research the developer before installing an app.
  • Know what information the app will be able to access. Before you download an app, read the app’s privacy policy to see how your data will be used or if your data will be shared. Is the policy vague about how the app will share your data? If it is, or if you are not comfortable with how your information could be shared, you might want to find another app.
  • Check out the permissions. To gain access to information like your location or contacts, or to get access to features like your camera and microphone, apps need your permission. You may be asked to give permission when you first download the app, or at the time the app first tries to access that information or feature. Pay close attention to the permissions the app requests. For example, does it really need to access your location or photos to do its job?

Already Installed the App? No Problem!

If an app is already on your phone or tablet, there are still some things you can do to protect your privacy:

  • Review the app’s permissions. Go to your settings to review the permissions to make sure the app doesn’t have access to information or features it doesn’t need. Turn off unnecessary permissions. Consider deleting apps that need a lot of permissions – some apps request lots of permissions that aren’t needed for the app’s function. Pay special attention to apps that have access to your contact list, camera, storage, location, and microphone.
  • Limit location permissions. Some apps have access to your device’s location services. If an app needs access to your location data to function, think about limiting the access to only when the app is in use.
  • Don’t automatically sign into apps with a social network account. Signing into an app with your social network account information often lets the app collect information from your social network account and vice versa. If you aren’t OK with that, use your email address and a unique password to sign in.
  • Keep apps updated. Apps with out-of-date software may be at risk of being hacked. Protect your device from malware by installing app updates as soon as they’re released.
  • Delete apps you don’t need. To avoid unnecessary data collection, if you’re not using an app, delete it.  If you have created an account to use the app, consider deleting it as well to further secure the data associated with it.