Apps have become an integral part of our everyday life. As smartphone use continues to increase, we use them to tell us the weather, to hear the news, to check our bank statement, to play games and even more!
Never before has ‘there must be an app for that’ become such a common catchphrase – because there almost always is. And if not, chances are one is in development.
While all of the many and varied apps in our lives provide a simple and easy means of accessing great content and services, it’s important to be aware of how to use them safely and securely.
Key to this is how they get on to your phone in the first place. Apple users have the App Store, Android customers have Google Play – both of these are trusted environments where apps have been reviewed and shouldn’t contain malicious information. You can also be confident when buying from the Windows Store and Blackberry World.
It is possible, however, for some apps to exploit your mobile device once installed. This possibility increases if you install an app from a less reputable (or unknown) source, such as bulletin boards or peer-to-peer networks. Here, you are unable to tell if someone has taken a popular paid-for app and added their own malicious elements. Once installed, it could potentially be used to take control of your handset, rack up charges on calls and messages, or send and intercept SMS and voicemail messages. Apps that work like this often aren’t evident until after your handset has been compromised, so it’s better not to take the risk in the first place.
So, when looking for new apps of any description, exercise caution – research it and check reviews before downloading. Once you have your apps in place, consider who will be using the device. If it will be children, you might want to check the ratings guidance in each store, which generally covers themes such as violence, offensive language, sexual content, or drug references. Each app store has its own policy, and exact age recommendations, for example, differ.
Also be aware, if you use apps that allow you or your child to connect to the internet and access content outside the app, that you may need to consider further device-level or network-level protections, filters or safe search options.
You should also be aware of permissions. These are things the app asks to do when it is installed, typically to assist the content or activity of the app, and often including a request to turn on location settings, for example, or access the camera function of your phone. Check what you are agreeing to, and decline or search for a comparable app if you are not happy.
If you use your phone as a mobile bank, be sure to stay safe and vigilant online – log out after each session, and ensure your phone is password protected.
Apps can cost you above and beyond the purchase price if you are not savvy. Beware going over your mobile data allowance if it is not very high, for example, as most use data or using data roaming when abroad, which can be very expensive.
If apps offer in-app purchases, which many games do, and your device is being used by children, your provider will be able to explain how to lock down your device so that no unexpected bills are run up. In terms of general housekeeping, and keeping your phone safe as well as running as efficiently as possible, delete any apps you’re not using and keep those that you are up to date with the latest fixes.
And, finally, if you trade in, sell or recycle your phone make sure you erase all of your personal data and apps from it.