Are Your Apps Stealing Too Much Information? There’s an App for That

It’s been called the biggest lie on the internet: “I have read and agree to the terms and conditions.”

For most of us, blindly checking that box and clicking “accept” are just a part of everyday life. After all, what’s the alternative to agreeing without knowing those terms? It’s either spend hours reading a novel-length legalese description of how the app functions, or not using the app by clicking “cancel.”

Now, researchers at Carnegie Melon University have created an Android-based app that will set up a profile for you based on your answers to some easy-to-understand privacy questions. Your answers will demonstrate your feelings about your security and privacy.

Do you care if advertisers send you targeted information, for example? Some users find it creepy to search for a new lawn mower online and then suddenly have their sidebars and email inbox filled with ads for lawn mowers. On the other hand, some users not only feel like it’s the price we pay for an affordable internet but also understand that if you really were searching for a new lawn mower, you’d probably like seeing ads for sales and discounts in your area.

There’s a strange catch-22 to using the app, though. It only works on Android, and on devices whose owner has allowed non-vetted, third-party apps to install. That characteristic is considered notoriously unsafe smartphone behavior as it allows you to accidentally download virus-ridden apps as well. However, the app does have a very handy feature that might make up for it, and that’s notifications that alert you to the fact that you’re about to share more information than your privacy profile’s comfort level allows.

Fortunately, there are a handful of things you can do if you’re not an Android user or you’re not ready to let an app gather up your privacy preferences.

1. Go to your settings and check your permissions. For each and every app you download, you can decide what access you give it, such as being able to use your camera and microphone, using information from your contacts list, and more.

2. You can generate a “clean” email address that you don’t use for anything but the device, meaning your personal email inbox won’t receive ads or spam that are generated due to your browsing history with the device.

3. Finally, you can turn off location settings on your phone, or at least deny apps individually the ability to figure out where you are. That will also help keep your apps from using and transmitting your location, but remember that some apps (like your GPS) will need it in order to function.


If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. 

Read next: Kids’ Apps Serve as a Horrific Wake-up Call for Parents

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