Consumer Matters: The real cost of free apps

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Consumer Matters: The cost of “free” apps
WATCH: Consumer Matters: The cost of "free" apps – Sep 16, 2019

From fitness apps to travel and everything else in between, there are tens of thousands of free apps out there hoping to get as much personal information about you as possible.

That’s according to cyber security experts who warn many free apps are collecting a wealth of information from our devices which are valuable to advertisers.

“We are paying for everything that is free. Whether it’s an app or any internet website we are paying with our privacy. Our data is what’s sponsoring these apps,” said Chester Wisniewski cyber security specialist at Sophos.

Wisniewski says, typically, data can be gathered through device permissions which ask users for access to their location, phone number, network provider, even WiFi connections.

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“These [apps] try to collect information. They try and collect our contact list, they try and steal that information and send it off and there’s other impacts as well,” said Wisniewski.

He adds many apps are working in the background, using up mobile data and potentially increasing your data usage and ultimately your cell phone bill.

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“Apps cost money to host and develop, so even the most innocent ones will often look for an advertising module to include to subsidize the cost of development and maintenance of the app,” said Wisniewski.

The other concern with some free apps is malicious mobile apps which usually involve spying on where you are, who you surf with and may gain access to contact lists without your permission.

“They are more common on Android than they are on iOS, but they do sneak into both markets. Apps from legitimate brands you recognize are almost never malicious,” said Wisniewski.

So how do you protect yourself?

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Take the time and read the app’s privacy policy before you decide to download the app. More importantly, avoid third-party apps.

“Stick with the stuff that’s built in your iPhone, built into your google device that’s the most safe thing to do,” said Wisniewski.

“If you are buying an application and you’re actually paying for it, that means the author is being compensated so it’s less likely they’re going to include one of these ad frameworks or other malicious code that might try and steal your information for profit.”

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