The internet gave us the freedom to work on the go, anywhere on the globe. The arrival of smartphones and other internet-enabled devices gave us more freedom to shop, bank, and pay bills online. To cap this freedom, enter apps, which have made it easier to access social networking sites, games, services, and more.
Free apps have some advantages such as:
- No cost – You do not have to spend a cent while downloading these apps.
- Flexibility – Free apps allow you to download and delete an app without incurring any losses. A paid-for app is harder to discard without a second thought
- Brand booster – For indie developers, free apps allow them to build a brand since most people are always willing to try new free apps.
If possible, most of us go for free apps when we are faced with the option of a free or paid app. As long as they perform the same functions, we prefer to save our money, but are we really?
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The covert dangers of free apps
Free apps always have a hidden agenda, and they have to make their developers’ money somehow. So, when you go for these free apps, these are some of the dangers:
Downloading a free app from a third-party app may be opening a door for malware. Third-party apps are apps developed by someone else other than your device’s manufacturer or OS (operating system).
For instance, Google or Apple engages other app developers, such as companies or individuals, to create apps for them. These manufacturers also develop apps for their devices, which are called native or first-party apps. Most apps, however, are third party apps and may be infected with malware.
Some of the free apps are often hidden malware, luring you to download them. The minute you download the app, it infects your device with malware and viruses. The malware steals your personal information such as log-in credentials, passwords, and credit card details, which can be used to steal from you and hack into your social media sites as well.
Most apps make next to nothing in returns and fail to get a decent ROI (Return on Investment). This makes most developers spend as little as possible on the app, hoping that they get a good response, start charging for it and hopefully make some money.
Most developers also recognize that, for the most part, users have no financial attachment to the app and will use it a few times and discard it.
When we download free apps, we think nothing of it when the apps ask for specific permissions, such as access to your photos, contact books, etc. We need to remember that these app developers have to make some money somehow, and data collection for sale to third parties is how they make money.
Most of these third-parties that buy data from these apps are mostly advertising companies who use the data to bring you customized ads—ever wondered how Instagram knows which ads to bring to you? A few years back, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg was in trouble for allegedly leaking data to Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm.
For instance, free VPN apps are notorious for claiming to have a zero-logging policy but logs and tracks user’s data. While people are looking for privacy and protection, these free VPN providers defeat this purpose, putting users’ sensitive information at risk.
A survey by Juniper Networks discovered that free mobile apps are the biggest threat to privacy because they can collect more data. Free mobile apps have a better chance (401%) of tracking your location and a better chance-pegged at 314% chance of accessing your address book than a paid-for app. Most apps already have permission to connect to the internet, making it easier for your data to leak from your device.
How to stay safe
Do not despair; all is not lost. You can protect yourself in various ways:
Consider a paid app
A paid app will not track you or sell your data to third parties and offers you more features than the free version. The paid app spares you the nuisance of adware, viruses, and malware since it gets regular updates. For example, you should consider buying a VPN instead of using a free one to avoid being tracked.
Manage app permissions
Always counter check which permissions you give apps. Check to see if the permission it asks for makes sense for the app’s functions. Sometimes an app will ask for permission to access your camera or contact list when its core function has nothing to do with these permissions.
Read the terms of agreement
Most times, people complain about an app accessing their data, whereas they are the ones who give that permission. The terms and conditions are usually long and winding documents, which most people do not read. As the adage says, the devil is in the details. These permissions are carefully hidden inside these documents. Please do not rush to click accept and agree to the terms before reading them.
Install anti-virus and anti-malware software
Anti-virus and anti-malware software go a long way in thwarting efforts by viruses and malware to infect your device. The software alerts you in case you try to download an infected app.
Avoid third-party apps
As mentioned before, avoid third-party apps by all means. Only go for legitimate apps and from the legal developer. Apple opened up its app store for third-party developers, meaning they underwent rigorous testing. Such an app is safe because it is under the umbrella of a trusted company.
Free apps are very tempting because we wrongly assume we are saving money. It is now official that it is safer to pay for an app. Why? Paid apps are not likely to steal your data and sell it to other parties, and they are not expected to have hidden viruses or malware. The best thing you can do to prevent an app from tracking you is not permitting it.
Jack is an accomplished cybersecurity expert with years of experience under his belt at TechWarn, a trusted digital agency to world-class cybersecurity companies. A passionate digital safety advocate himself, Jack frequently contributes to tech blogs and digital media sharing expert insights on cybersecurity and privacy tools.