In this op-ed from The Hill, Golden Frog Co-Founder Ron Yokubaitis discusses the importance of vetting mobile apps prior to downloading.
Data collection is a brave new world for consumers and companies alike. There is no escaping it, nor is there the ability to avoid it at some level. That is why many privacy conscious consumers seek out virtual private networks (VPN) in order to attain some shred of discretion. This conundrum begs the question, “How do you scrutinize before downloading?”
Generally, consumers should be more skeptical when selecting their apps. There are pitfalls when choosing something you’re not completely educated on. Ironically, the internet isn’t the best place to help as reviews are often designed to push you toward a particular product, more than help make an informed decision.
That’s why in today’s app happy climate recent headlines should have you questioning the way we choose apps for ourselves, as well as our children. Life was simpler when the con artist would just use known buzz words like “Nigerian prince” in their email to coax you for information. Before that, old timers such as myself would use the term “Trojan Horse.” Today’s phrase seems to be “app of the day.”
Second, if the app is free, you should ask yourself how this company makes money. They are obviously spending thousands of dollars on P.R. and marketing efforts to get their “free service” in front of you. You have to wonder who would finance this kind of operation. If they are not charging for their services, there are several ways they can make money. They can allow other companies to advertise to you through the app, or they can sell your data — such as tracking your regular location stops, shopping habits, or frequent searches — to other companies. Some make money doing a combination of both. Oftentimes, this information is not easy to find because it would make you reconsider downloading their app.
Finally you should ask, who is behind this company? Too many bad actors rely on the consumer instinct to leap before they look to simply hide who is behind the company by not revealing any information. The absence of a company history or contact information should raise red flags aplenty. If there are no photos no bios of the company executives, and no way to contact them, then how can you decide whether you can trust this company with your data?
Another word of caution for consumers is that even a genuine company that has the latest and greatest app, should not automatically justify downloading. Take the recent mess involving exercise app “Strava.” The app is designed to “enhance” your sports activity by sharing your workout paths, and allowing you to see other popular trails to get your fit on. When the company published a global map of users’ paths, a detailed trail some military personnel use to exercise was revealed to the world, along with a layout for a few secret facilities. Strava is not trying to be the Edward Snowden of the app world, but they have made their way into being the latest parable for the privacy-conscious.
On its website, Strava clearly describes their intention to users, and how collected data will be used. Every user should have asked themselves the three questions. If certain military personnel had, they would have realized quickly that maybe sharing the geolocation of paths along secure facilities isn’t the best app for me.
So before you download that next app, do exactly what you do when a Nigerian prince shoots you an email asking for your bank account. Ask questions before sharing your personal information.