A recent Symantec survey shows that a majority of Canadians often worry about their mobile privacy, but have no problem trading it in for a free smartphone app.
James Nguyen, a Symantec mobile security expert warns Android users to think twice before they download free apps from Google Play because while they may not be paying with their bank accounts, they could be offering up personal information in exchange, instead.
"There are a lot of free apps out there and they rarely come without a cost," Nguyen said. "Your personal data is used as a sense of currency. It's a trade off."
The survey results show that 54 per cent of Canadians are willing to make that trade.
When Android apps are downloaded, users are immediately prompted with a message alerting them of what information the app requires in order to be installed. Some apps require access to features like a user's contacts and emails for synching purposes, but others require access to features like health and fitness data, camera, photos, and text messages.
If users grant access, that will enable app developers to read what should be private text messages, see what should be private photos, and analyze what should be private health data.
Nguyen said some less trusted developers will use the information against users who have downloaded the app. They're able to track users, collect information and sell the results to advertisers who can place ads in notification bars.
The extra access can also be used as a portal for malware infections. Unless users have malware protection on their smartphones, the software can be installed without the knowledge of the user and lay dormant, waiting for them to access credit card information or personal information that can lead to identity theft.
Information collected from health apps can lead to theft away from the digital world as well.
Nguyen said fitness and health apps are able to track when users wake up, their location, and when they go to sleep. Some can even recognize when users are travelling between locations.
Unless the developer is verified and trustworthy, Nguyen wouldn't recommend handing out this information.
"If I was a thief, [I would know] what time you wake up and go to sleep," Nguyen said. "I know what time your house is open."
But most Canadians remain unaware of the potential trade-off.
The Symantec study found that 77 per cent of Canadians worry about financial breaches on their smartphones while another 53 per cent worry about giving away contact information.
But the same per cent of Canadian users do not even realize that apps can track physical locations, while 28 per cent do not know they're allowing access to any information when downloading apps.
The only time mobile privacy came to the forefront for most was when Facebook forced users to download the messenger app in order to send and receive messages over mobile. Many complained about the unconventionality of splitting messaging into another app, but those who looked further into the information required by Facebook to download it in the first place saw the real issue.
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