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An 'app'ening world

Chetana Divya Vasudev, Oct 04, 2016, DHNS 0:08 IST

New worries

In a fix Giving apps access to your contacts means compromising on their privacy.
A ‘forward’ has been doing the rounds on WhatsApp about the privacy concerns relating to that instant messaging app; it’s asking for permission to share user data with Facebook.

In the WhatsApp notification, asking users to agree to the terms and conditions again, the option to share these user details to help improve ads on Facebook is already selected. Those who are uncomfortable parting with this information have to uncheck it before clicking on the ‘I agree’ button.

“Agreeing to this would mean Facebook can see who you’re chatting with and what you’re talking about,” says tech expert Chinmayi S K. “So if you’re talking about cat adoption, the ads displayed on the side could be relevant to that.”

When it comes to other smartphone apps, she cites Zomato as an example. “It has been asking for user history — previous orders and other such details — to make recommendations,” she says. “This comes with the app update. Tinder, too, is asking for your location using wifi, which is more accurate than the GPRS location.”
It’s alright to agree to these permissions, she says, so long as you’re aware of what you’re signing up for and how that data is going to be used.

If you have qualms about agreeing to this, there are usually alternatives you can find, adds Rohini Lakshane, program officer, Centre for Internet and Society. “If not, it’s usually a trade-off: you have to see how much you want the app,” she points out.

There are, however, other apps that might be duplicates asking for access to your device or files, cautions Chinmayi.

“If a cooking app, a simple one that gives you recipes, asks for your call logs or other files, for example,” she says.

A discerning user, interjects Rohini, will check for permission to access files or functions that are not strictly necessary for the features the app supports. “I don’t want to name anything but some e-commerce and travel apps ask to access your browsing history and the other apps or networks you’re connect to. It could be to serve you contextual ads or content, like Zomato, or to sell it to someone. You never know,” she says. However, some devices or versions of the Android OS let you control what permissions you enable, she informs.

Aeronautical engineer Pavan Raj P V says he takes care not to compromise on his safety, whenever possible. “But there are a few apps that I have on my phone no matter what — Facebook, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Instagram. Most of them auto-update and require no extra permissions.”

However, he has noticed that LinkedIn asks for access to Gmail contacts that you could accidentally accept “if you’re logging in mechanically”.

Varsha C V, communications specialist at Karnataka State Highways Improvement Project, says, “Last month, my husband asked me to download a Google app for free calls that required all sorts of permissions, such as access to your phone logs. When Skype offers the same features without asking for all this, why should anyone use this app?”

She believes privacy in India is not taken as seriously as it should be. “You should keep in mind that if you’re giving them access to your contacts, you’re also compromising on others’ privacy,” she points out.

Lokanand, a sound engineer, admits to not paying attention to what he’s giving apps access to. “I’m no expert but if you ask me, you download apps because they are useful. So I don’t really bother about what I’m saying yes to.”

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