A study of more than 5,000 Android smartphone apps has uncovered a number of games that access sensitive information without permission. We explain how to manage your app permissions on Android and iOS smartphones to protect your children’s privacy.
The results, collected by researchers from the International Computer Science Institute, highlight the importance of managing app permissions to limit the information they have access to.
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Revealed: data-grabbing children’s apps
Between them, the apps included in the study had logged a whopping 172 million downloads, which averages out at 734,000 downloads per app. Some of the popular apps found to be ‘transmitting identifiers to third parties’ included language learning tool Duolingo, along with games Minion Rush and Disney’s Where’s My Water.
The study has shined a light on Android apps in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). COPPA is a US law that imposes restrictions on websites, app and services directed at children under 13 years of age.
Of the 5,855 apps checked:
In a statement issued to tech website Tom’s Guide, a Google spokesperson said: ‘We’re taking the researchers’ report very seriously and looking into their findings. Protecting kids and families is a top priority, and our Designed for Families program requires developers to abide by specific requirements above and beyond our standard Google Play policies.
‘If we determine that an app violates our policies, we will take action. We always appreciate the research community’s work to help make the Android ecosystem safer.’
How to manage app permissions on Android
If your Android smartphone is running on 6.0 (Marshmallow) or higher, you can control the information each of your installed apps has access to.
Head to Settings, then Apps or Application Manager. Tap the app you want to examine in closer detail and then hit Permissions. You’ll see which information the app is requesting access to. Here’s an example:
You can manually toggle each individual permission. In the case above, Google Drive is requesting access to the phone’s storage as the app needs that permission ticked to upload images. If you download a smartphone game and it’s requesting all sorts of sensitive information from your mobile, that’s a red flag.
Another option is to browse by permissions instead of installed apps, as seen below:
To reach this page, tap the Settings app and then select Permissions. You’ll get a clear breakdown of the information you’re handing out through installed apps. If you’re unhappy with the information being requested, you can deny a specific app access.
How to manage app permissions on iOS
If you’re an iPhone user running iOS 8 or later, tap Settings and then Privacy. A list of your pre-installed and third-party apps will appear here, and you can tap on any of them to see what sort of data they’re interacting with. An app won’t appear on this page until it asks permission to use your data.
In the example above, the Outlook email app is requesting access to the photos stored on the iPhone. This allows you to download email attachments or upload pictures from your camera roll.
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If you want to add an extra layer of protection to your smartphone, it might be time to download a mobile security app. The best options we’ve tested offer up protection against data-grabbing malware and come with anti-phishing and theft-recovery tools.