What’s a mobile app?
It is a software program you can download and access directly using your phone or another mobile device, like a tablet or music player.
What do I need to download and use an app?
You need a smartphone or another mobile device with internet access. Remember that all apps don't work on every mobile device. Once buying a mobile device, you’ll be committed to using its OS and the type of apps that are developed for it. Various mobile operating systems released by Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and BlackBerry have online app stores where you can search, download, and install apps. Some of the online retailers offer app stores, too. Remember to use an app store that provides proper apps for your device’s OS. To set up an account, you may have to provide a credit card number, especially if you want to download an app that isn’t free.
Why are some apps free?
Some apps are distributed for free through app stores; the developers make money in a few ways:
- Some developers sell advertising space within their app. The app developers can earn money from such ads, so they distribute the app for free to reach as many users as possible.
- Some offer their basic version of apps for free. These developers hope you’ll be happy with app enough to upgrade it to a paid version with more features.
- Some apps allow you buy other items or features within them. Usually, you are billed through the app store for these in-app purchases. Many devices give you settings to block in-app purchases.
- Some apps are free to take your interest in other products of a company. These apps are some form of advertising.
What types of data can apps access?
When signing up with an app store or downloading individual apps, you may be asked for permission to let them access information on your device. The information some apps may be able to access are:
- your phone and email contacts
- call logs
- internet data
- calendar data
- data about the device’s location
- the device’s unique IDs
- information about how you use the app itself
Some apps only access the data required for their function; other access data that are not related to their function.
How can I tell what information an app will access or share?
It’s not usually an easy task to find out what data a specific app will access, or how it will use them. Before downloading an app, examine your information about its developer and what its task. The app stores may include some information about the company or person that have developed the app, but just if the developer provides it. If the developer doesn’t provide contact information (like a website or an email address) the app may be less than trustworthy.
If your device uses Android OS, you will have a chance to see the “permissions” just before installing an app. It's best to read them carefully. You can find useful information here that tells you what data the app will access on your device. Decide whether the permissions make sense given the purpose of the app or not; After all, there’s no reason for an e-book or “wallpaper” app to read your text messages.
Why do some apps collect location data?
Some apps use special location data to provide you with maps, coupons for nearby stores, or information about nearby people who you might know. Some of them give location data to ad networks, that may combine such data with other information in their databases to send targeted ads based on your location or interests.
Once you permit an app to access your location data, it will keep this access until you change the settings on your phone. If you prefer to don't share your location data with advertising networks, turn off location services through your phone’s settings. But if you block this data, apps won’t be able to give you information based on your location unless you enter it yourself.
Kids and Mobile Apps
In a recent survey of mobile apps for kids, FTC found that kids’ apps might:
- collect and share personal information
- let your kids spend real money; even if the app is free
- include ads
- link to social media
Meanwhile, the apps might not tell you they’re doing it.
To learn more about an app before you download it, look at screenshots, read the description, content rating and any user reviews, and do some research on the developer. You also can look up outside reviews from sources you respect.
The best way to keep up with kids’ apps is to try them yourself and talk to your kids about the rules for using apps.