I have an Android phone, and like many people, I don’t necessarily check as carefully as I should when I download apps. From time to time I double check my apps to see what rights I am granting the program, and more often than not I am horrified. Many of the apps give themselves broad permissions, well beyond what they need to provide the services they are offering.
Sometimes I delete the app, but in most cases, I continue to use it, despite my misgivings. Why? Convenience I suppose. Also, for some apps there aren’t really any other choices and I want or need the functionality. Facebook is a prime example of this. I can’t very well download another Facebook app that works well with the service.
Might as well throw in the kitchen sink
Facebook, like many apps, has a laundry list of items it warns you about when you install it. Included in that list is the ability to access text messages. The initial report from London’s Sunday Times had Facebook acknowledging it was reading texts. Facebook is strongly (one might say angrily) denying this, but it concedes that it has the ability, and reminds users that it warned us about it when we installed the app. This is true, it does warn us. But so what? And why does it have the functionality before it needs it?
Don’t be disingenuous
Personally, I find the whole, well we warned you about it, to be very disingenuous. Much as with click-wrap contracts, users simply don’t read the information. Companies that provide apps know this. They are taking advantage of it. Why? Well it might be because they want access later, or it might be because they are up to no good. It also could be because of laziness, maybe it is easier for the app to be able to access more. I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care. I am pretty well tired of it. It just isn’t necessary.
To me, if it isn’t obvious that an app will be able to access certain information, the app should provide additional warnings. And when it comes down to it, if the app doesn’t need access to something to operate, it shouldn’t have that capability built in. If Facebook needs to add the functionality later, it can do so with appropriate warnings at that point in time. The default should be to leave such capabilities off, not to have access now just in case it decides to do something with SMS later.
Apps need better privacy control
For some time I have wished that I could adjust privacy settings in specific apps. I think that when I go into an app’s setting I should be able to see exactly what it is accessing, and I should be able to disable accessibility that is not essential to the ability of the app to work. If that means I am disabling certain functions of the app, so be it, the app could simply provide a warning to that effect. For example, if a news app needs to know my location to give me local news, maybe I can just live without the local news. Or maybe I can just put in the zip code.
Am I asking coders for a lot? Maybe, I am. But when it comes to large, financially successful companies like Facebook, something tells me they could figure it out. Or maybe the app programmers should just avoid putting in unnecessary and invasive functionality in the first place. That works too.