Tips and advice

Protect your privacy with app permissions – Everything you need to know

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Protect your privacy with app permissions? Thanks to apps, we have free access to many functions on the smartphone and tablet. This free use often comes with a downside. We do not pay with money, but with our personal data. Protect your privacy by setting app permissions.

Modern technology brings a lot of progress to man. Thanks to the smartphone and tablet, we can communicate with everyone via social media, wherever the other is in the world. Thanks to apps, we can read the news anytime, anywhere, keep an eye on the weather and play games.

However, this progress also comes with a downside. We do not pay for the use of apps with money, but with our personal data. Sometimes consciously because we have given permission, but also unknowingly because of malicious apps. In this article, we look at safety when using apps. How secure are your personal data? What are they used for and can I still safely download apps? We also discuss setting app permissions on the smartphone or tablet to increase your own security.

Almost every app that is downloaded asks for permission for certain data when you start it for the first time. We call this app permissions. You hereby give permission to the app to, for example, the contact list, images, the location, the camera and microphone or text messages on the phone. Many people give permission for everything, otherwise the app can usually not be used. What actually happens with our data and is it wise that we give permission for everything?

Concerns about privacy with app permissions

The Trends in Security survey by TNS NIPO commissioned by Capgemini Consulting in 2017 shows that 62 percent of the respondents consider it important to increase knowledge about privacy when using apps. In addition, seventy percent think that the disclosure of personal data, via mobile applications, has an influence on committing crime with this data. Despite the concerns, only a third of all people actually take the time to read an app’s privacy policy and the vast majority of users give access to personal data on the smartphone or tablet with each app.

Protect your privacy with app permissions

Permissions required for the app

In many cases, it is necessary to issue an authorization to an app, because otherwise its operation cannot be guaranteed. A camera app simply needs access to the camera, storage and images, otherwise you cannot take and save photos. A game like Pokémon Go needs access to the location, otherwise the game won’t know where you are. However, there are also apps that ask for permissions where you cannot establish the relationship. Why does a game need full access to internet history? That sounds like an advertisers dream. Or why does a photo app request access to the calendar and the Wi-Fi connection?

Is an app permission necessary or dangerous?

Sometimes there is no necessary connection to indicate why an app needs access to your personal data or another part of the smartphone or tablet. That is not to say that this app is malicious, but it is advisable to be extra careful. When starting a newly installed app, your smartphone or tablet asks for permission to view certain parts of your phone.

Be extra careful with permissions that ask to send text messages, make phone calls, or edit content. Do not only look at some permissions, but also in combination with other requested permissions. It concerns the total package of requested authorizations. Is there no connection and do you have doubts about privacy? It is better not to use the app.

Risks according to the Dutch Data Protection Authority

There are always risks when downloading apps. Not only with a view to privacy, but also the risk of infection by malware. In the Netherlands, the Dutch Data Protection Authority is the supervisory authority when it comes to the processing of personal data. They argue that there are three risks when downloading apps.

– Use of personal data without (valid) permission
– Use of more data than necessary
– Poor security

The first risk is that an app can have access to personal data and information on the smartphone or tablet. These can then be saved or changed. In addition, it is possible that actions on the device or location can be tracked. This information can be shared with third parties, such as advertisers, but also criminals. This can be with the user’s permission (app permissions), but can also happen with malicious apps without valid permission.

The second risk of downloading an app involves using more data than necessary. This means that an app requires more permissions than is necessary to use the app. Take a critical look at an app and ask yourself whether a certain authorization is required for the operation of an app or whether it can be used to view personal data.

As a third risk, the Personal Data Authority indicates that apps may have poor security. This can open the door to malware infections. Personal data can also be sent to servers unsecured.

If something is free, you are the product

Free doesn’t exist in the world and the same goes for downloading free apps. A developer has put time and money into developing an app and that is of course not earned back by giving the app away for free. Some apps show advertisements, but that is often not enough to eliminate the costs.

That is why a different revenue model often depends on a free app and that is your data. The data is collected because you have given permission when you start the app for the first time. The data can be used to improve the app, but of course that does not generate any money. A better earnings model is therefore to collect your personal data. These are then sold to advertisers or marketers. This is not only the revenue model of apps like Facebook, but also of many other free apps. The Trends in Security survey showed that Facebook earns more than thirteen euros per year per user by monitoring surfing behavior and offering personal advertisements.

Large companies such as Facebook are bound by strict laws and regulations. In addition, you as a user must give explicit permission. Yet this system is certainly not watertight. The laws and regulations differ per country. It is often impossible for small app developers to adapt the app per country. In addition, the controlling authorities are not able to subject every app to an investigation. Hundreds of new apps appear daily. Launching an app with malicious intent, such as stealing personal data or infecting it with malware, is a piece of cake, especially on Google Play.

Dangers of apps

What danger do you run now with malicious apps? Some of these apps can retrieve and sell personal data and data such as phone number or email from the phone without permission. You are then overloaded with spam via email or phone. More dangerous are fake apps with malware. If you think you have just made a purchase, it turns out that your money has not been sent to the store, but to the account of a third party. The same can happen with apps that make expensive text messages or phone calls, where the bill ends up on your plate.

Also be careful with apps that request access to the microphone or camera and where you cannot find a connection between the app and these permissions. In 2012, the US government created PlaceRaider . This malware uses the phone’s camera to take pictures randomly. The aim was to get a better picture of suspects. Of course, in 2017 it does not mean that only the American government has such malware. It’s not a nice idea that people can just dive into your personal life.

Should I stop downloading apps?

Does the above sound like a horror story? No worries. In most cases, a permission is simply needed for a certain function of an app and is therefore little to worry about. In most cases there is a clear connection to why an app needs a certain authorization.

However, always be wary of free apps, especially if they have few downloads and reviews. Read the privacy policy and reviews and wonder if it is true that a particular app needs a certain permission. You can always do more research on a particular app through a search engine if you don’t trust it. Apple is also stricter in the App Store than Google is with Google Play. The risk is therefore higher on Android, partly because the control falls short, as we recently saw with a fake version of Whatsapp in Google Play. This bogus version opened the door wide to malware infections.

You can provide a firewall and a virus scanner on the phone. However, the downside to this is that they, especially the virus scanner, make a phone very slow. Also, updates often come too late, so you have no protection against the latest viruses. Virus scanners are therefore not always the answer. Incidentally, an app like Malwarebytes is more effective. It scans for malware and spyware and can remove them effectively. However, that too is no guarantee that nothing will ever happen. It is better if the user himself pays attention to whether an app is safe to download.


A firewall can help prevent collected data from being sent to another server. With a good firewall you can block the sending of data for a specific app. However, we must remain realistic. In this day and age it is impossible to hide yourself completely. You can brick up your own phone, but your contact details are not only on your own phone, but also on the phones of family and friends. A good step to ensure your privacy on your own smartphone or tablet is to look at the app permissions.

Disable permissions

You can take a lot of measures to hide your privacy better. On Android and iOS it is possible to adjust app permissions as desired. This allows you to change the permissions per app.

App permissions on Android

Go to Settings and click on Permissions. It depends on the brand which steps you need to follow exactly. With Huawei phones, you immediately get to a screen with App permissions. With other brands, you can first get to an Applications window, after which you have to press the gear at the top right to get to the App permissions window.

This list is divided into categories such as Calendar, Camera, Contacts and Storage. Under each category you can see how many apps you have given permission for this data. Click on a category and you will see which apps have access. You can then turn off or enable the permission behind each app. Do not get too enthusiastic about this. Some apps require these permissions in order to function. A camera app does not work without access to the camera, but a game that has access to text messages is a strange sensation and it is better to turn it off.

App permissions on iOS

You can control app permissions on iOS by going to Settings and then clicking Privacy. You will see a list of categories such as Contacts, Photos or Camera. Click on a category and you will see in the next screen which apps have access to the category you clicked. Slide the bar behind each app to grant or disable permissions. Also on iOS, not all permissions should be turned off. Take a good look at the app and ask yourself if it needs access to a particular category. Is there no reason to think of? Then take it out.