Robb Hicken: Secure yourself from those ‘Angry Birds’

CONSUMER WATCH

Better Business BureauJanuary 30, 2014 

When my grandson grabbed my cellphone the other day, the first words out of the 3-year-old’s mouth were “Angry Birds, Papa, Angry Birds.”

I admit it, I don’t have a smartphone, and as such don’t have any apps on my cellphone. But, this little guy has already learned to fling those little yellow birds at snorting pigs with ample dexterity.

I’ve witnessed him using his mom’s phone playing the game like a natural. Pretty good for a little guy.

Now, I read just this week how hackers lurk behind such apps hoping to steal the location, age, sex and other personal information from unknowing users. The New York Times reports the National Security Agency and its British counterpart are snooping through the information online gamers collect from their users.

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission released a study called “Mobile Apps for Kids — Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade,” which found that nearly 60 percent of mobile apps its researchers examined “failed to provide any information about the data collected through the app, let alone the type of data collected, the purpose of the collection and who would obtain access to the data.”

It’s not always easy to tell if an app is going to collect your information or how it will use it. Smartphones and other mobile devices collect information — calls and texts — and as computers, surfing the Web and sending emails, they generate and also rely on data from map and trip planning searches. That information helps mobile advertising companies create profiles on mobile device uses, travel, payments, app types and other factors, for example.

Under a new administrative rule from the nation’s secret surveillance court, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook will be able to see how often the government demands information, but they still won’t know what’s being collected or how much.

Now is the time to check your smartphone privacy:

- Start with trust. Check out Web publishers with BBB before downloading apps.

- Research companies and apps before downloading, including industry publications and user reviews.

- Read the full privacy policy (and, on Android phones, the “Permissions” screen). Opt out of location sharing when prompted.

- Periodically check all privacy settings on your smartphone and keep them set as high as you can without altering the functions of your apps (some apps, like maps and compasses, need geo-location information in order to work properly).

- Update your apps when a new version comes out (your phone should alert you); often app updates fix “bugs” from earlier versions.

- Delete apps you no longer use from your phone.

I reiterate: Read the privacy policy. It’s the surest way to know your level of exposure and the invasion of privacy you face when loading an app. It’s easy to click the accept button when the agreement’s fine print appears on the screen. But, when it comes to collecting your personal information, it details how the developer will use your personal information. Remember, “The large print gives. The tiny print takes away.”

Robb Hicken: 947-2115

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