Managing App permissions - Why and How?

There are many apps that promise to ease you off by taking over the daily tasks you have to perform. Maybe the app which lets you order groceries, or an app that is meant to track your finances. In short, mobile apps have been our constant partners, and saviours in most cases. But, what if the saviours turn into the thieves? Couple of these apps could be spying on you. It is advisable to check how to protect your privacy on your smartphone. Here we go with a few tips.

There are many rogue companies that steal your data, and thereby compromise your privacy. They always use the disguise of an useful app. While they appear to do what they promise to, they will steal your contact details, messages and even make calls to some numbers you never knew that they exist. How to identify such apps? And if you are not able to identify, how to stop such apps from accessing your data? That is the area we are going to discuss in the following paragraphs.

As far Android ecosystem is concerned, none of the apps can do anything unless you permit them to. The so called rogue apps use what is called App Permissions to get access to the tasks that it wants to perform. Please note that you cannot blame the app straightaway, because it is you who serves the data to those companies. Surprised? Read on to know more.

What are Android Permissions?

Whenever you install an application on your device, there are certain permissions that the app wants you to grant it. They are just like the End User License Agreements – the EULAs – we just Agree to without even checking it up. The apps may require you to grant permission to use the camera, or access your GPS location. You normally grant permission to those tasks at the time of installation.

So, why do these apps need permissions? Well, they need to access certain features of your phone to be able to deliver the functionality it promises. Unless you grant the permission to use the same, the app will not be able to do what it aims to do. For instance, a cab booking app may need to have access to your GPS location, as it would be able to send the driver to the exact location. But, what should be viewed with suspicion is the permissions requested for the tasks that are seldom needed for completing the particular task.

When you need to be suspicious with Permissions?

Well, it depends. Even the apps from the reputed brands ask for some unneeded permissions. I just set out to check the permissions I have granted to the apps installed on my phone and I was astonished. A big deal of them have permissions for the tasks they never need to perform! Even the apps from big names like HDFC, or BigBasket do it.

I won't say that these apps are into accessing your private data and using it for some unscrupulous tasks – but don't you think it should be the responsibility of the app developers to explain the need for those permissions? That is exactly what lacks in the current scenario,
Yes – indeed. The main concern with the app permissions as of now is the lack of transparency. Clearly disclosing why an app needs those permissions should be the responsibility of the developers.

Be more Aware

Well, people are using more and more smartphones. They need to be taught about the importance of the permissions and their repercussions. Android lets you review the permissions when installing the app, but being aware of the risks involved in granting those unwanted permissions is equally important.

I am not saying that the permissions are always unscrupulous. At times, there are some legitimate permissions, but you need to tackle it on a case to case basis. For instance, the banking or e – commerce site apps seek permission to read the One Time Password (OTP) sent to your phone at the time of payment. The permission in itself is not something to be worried about, but as a end user – you should have the option of opting out of the automatic tracking of the message and decide to enter the OTP manually. That is exactly what I mean by the transparency and accountability.

How to take care of unwanted permissions?

Well, there are many manufacturers who have introduced the Permission Managers within their software itself. Xiaomi and Cyanogen MOD are a few such examples. Thus you get access to the permissions you have granted.
Android has provided the Permissions Manager with its latest iteration of software – Android Marshmallow a.k.a Android 6.0. You have an improved control over the permissions granted for the apps. You can revoke the permission granted to any app. Also, the software will let you know of the app requests whenever the app needs to use a certain permission for the first time. There are hints at the further improvement to the permission management in the upcoming Android N update.
However, that may not be a complete solution. With the Google policy of not supporting a device older than two years, there may be many devices which may not see the Marshmallow or Android N update. You may use another app labelled MyPermissions to get an idea of which app has been granted what permission.

Concluding thoughts

Well, the article is an attempt at making the readers understand the importance of app permissions and how they may affect you and your privacy concerns seriously. Though there are no solid options to use an app and stay away from the ill effects (except when you are on Android Marshmallow or above), it is always good to be aware of what it can cause to you. Until the time, the transparency between the app developers and the users does not see the light of the day, we may need to careful with the permissions we grant.

Article by Timmappa Kamat
Timmappa Kamat is a technology enthusiast. He has an active interest in newer technological developments. He is fond of new gizmos & gadgets. He loves to share his knowledge through tech-savvy websites as a freelancer. A Mechanical Engineer by profession, he is equally interested in blogging, with his own blog. He wants to carve a name for himself in blogging arena one day! If you need any clarifications about his articles,please respond here below or get in touch with him through his profile.

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