There is no doubt that the digital revolution has transformed our lives, and for the most part, for the better – simplifying tasks, streamlining communications and helping us stay in touch. However, using the various apps like those from Facebook and Google comes with a hidden price that once you find out, you may not be willing to pay.
The Chicago Defender contacted Facebook and Google, two of the largest technology companies on the planet. They are eager to get you to use their products, in turn collecting as much of your personal data as possible. Not surprisingly, the two companies were not so willing to answer any of our questions regarding the perceived invasiveness of their permissions policies.
According to internet-based company Makeuseof — which provides free technical information about apps, software and web applications – “permissions are special privileges that apps must ask for if they want to access sensitive media on your phone.”
In our analysis of Facebook’s camera permissions, this is what we found: “Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.” (emphasis Chicago Defender) Google Play Store, a virtual store for Android users to download free and fee-based apps, permissions for text messages says this: “Allows the app to receive and process SMS messages. This means the app could monitor or delete messages sent to your device without showing them to you.”
Jack Wallen, writing for TechRepublic, attempted to explain the hysteria surrounding permissions. “The idea of turning on and off app permission, on the Android platform, was born from users growing paranoia that apps were using services and features with ill intent. This came to a head when Facebook released its Messenger app. The app unleashed a massive list of required permissions that the user had to accept in order to complete the installation. It was all or nothing. Word spread (through Facebook, ironically enough) that the app was going to use your camera and mic to spy on you,” he stated. “After all, why would a simple messaging app need permission to use your camera?”
We asked Reginald Joiner, IT Consultant for Agent Services Inc. “Why do tech companies have permission policies that appear unrelated to the services they provide?”
“People really don’t understand what is really required,” he starts off, “so some vendors simply take more access either for purposes unrelated to what is actually being done and/or in anticipation of doing additional things later,” he says.
Developers Go All In
Joiner goes on to explain that when a developer — the person creating the app — comes up with an idea, he or she starts off by using an Android operation system that is owned by another company like Google or Microsoft. These companies have a set of permissions that they say are standard that the developer has to agree to include in their new app.
And developers want their app to be successful. It’s easier to simply request as many features as one expects that one’s app will eventually use as opposed to having people go back and forth with the permissions. “If people keep going back to the permissions, then they might get nervous,” he stated.
Tech company Lifehacker says “Android permissions are simultaneously an Android developer’s best friend and worst enemy. Some of the best apps available from even reputable app developers and companies still need some pretty deep permissions in order to do basic things. The company recommends that you understand the permissions before you agree to them and that you should check the app’s description on Google Play to see if the developer listed them in the features category. Or you can check them out on the developer’s website or read review by users, which will tell you if the app is doing things it shouldn’t do.
Tech writer Wang Wei suggests that you download a permissions app and disable the permissions that you don’t want an app to have. A popular one he recommends for Androids is App Ops, which allows users to pull up apps on their phone and revoke individual permissions. In order for this work on an Android, the phone has to be “rooted,” which is a process that allows a user to make changes to the phone’s OS. Without a rooted phone, it would be difficult to revoke permissions on an Android phone.
Apple allows Iphone users the opportunity to change permissions, and so does Google Nexus. If you’re using Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the latest Android platform, the phone now asks for permission if it wants access to a feature. In conclusion, Joiner says “I expect there will be an ever increasing quantity of information collected from everyone with no end in sight.” He says this policy will change only when a third of the population demands change.