Risks and side effects of apps

Risks and side effects of apps

Smartphones and apps are the mainstays of mobile internet use. They are more and more given the status of a personal accompanying item, comparable to purses, glasses or wristwatches. Just like these, the devices accompany their owners wherever they go. In addition to the obvious advantages for their users, many apps primarily collect data that the manufacturers use.

Almost two thirds of Germans now own a smartphone. These are no longer just used for making calls: Most smartphone users also use them to surf the Internet or take photos with the device, many download additional apps, access social networks or use the smartphone as a planner.

The digital all-rounders have extensive knowledge of their owner and their social environment: contact details, appointments, communication and usage behavior, whereabouts, consumption habits, interests and preferences. This information mostly comes from the so-called apps, which first make a smartphone “smart”. The market for apps is growing steadily. In 2014, it is estimated that more than 717 million euros were generated with apps in Germany. In 2013 it was 547 million.

Who benefits from the apps?

Many commercial enterprises have recognized the possibilities and benefits of the small smartphone programs and have them programmed in a variety of ways. Many of the apps offered are free. However, nobody has anything to give away. The app developer refinances himself by renting advertising space in his apps. In addition, apps often read data from the smartphone, for example the contact list or the location of the phone. In many cases this can be useful for the consumer, for example when finding their way around a strange city, but it can also be used to create movement profiles. With this information about a user, the digital advertisements can be better tailored to their personal needs. Advertising can therefore also be sold more expensively. Instead of paying with money, consumers pay for the free services with their data.

Which data are read out?

However, this does not only apply to the data generated when using the app or the Internet. Studies show that many apps access smartphone data in ways that users do not expect. For example, when an application that offers a simple flashlight function accesses the address book, the telephone list, the location of the user or the list of the websites they have visited – without informing the user or asking for permission.

So you should pay attention to which data an app wants to use. For smartphones with the widespread Android operating system up to 5.0, this can be clarified before the download or at the latest during installation, since the corresponding information options are available or the user is asked to consent to data access. From Android 6.0 you can now find the menu item “Authorizations” within the app. Behind this are the permissions that the application has. Now you can switch every single option on and off.

For devices with the iOS (iPhone / iPad) operating system, you will be asked if the address book or the location should be accessed; You can also specify which apps should be able to access location data, the address book, the calendar, photos, the microphone or the camera.

You should always weigh up the costs and benefits of the small programs for you personally on the basis of the access authorizations that the app requires.

How can you make data access through the app more difficult?

In principle, you can also control whether, when and who finds out where you are. After all, the GPS or WLAN function of the smartphone does not have to be permanently active, and when they are switched off, no application can access location data without being asked. The so-called mobile data of a smartphone can also be used to call up locations and transfer data from the smartphone to the Internet (or vice versa). This is why it is worth considering for infrequent users only to activate the mobile data when access to the Internet is actually required.

What else to look out for

An antivirus app is essential. A smartphone is more of a computer than a telephone and is therefore just as susceptible to viruses or Trojans as a PC at home. Virus protection programs especially for smartphones are already available from all of the major providers known from the PC sector . These are also downloaded from the relevant provider shop.

Most malware can hide in apps or other software. It is therefore important not to download any apps outside of the authorized retailer stores. Android cell phones in particular are at risk here: their comparatively high market share makes them popular for cyber criminals. Security programs that specifically search for malicious software can only contain the dangers, not completely exclude them. Software manufacturers regularly bring out updates to their programs that close security gaps. Therefore, you should make sure that the software on the smartphone is up to date.


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