In the wide world of apps, Pokémon GO is the latest craze. According to DMR, it took this app only 13 hours after launch to make its way to the top of the chart of highest-grossing apps in the United States. In many cases, users were so excited to get started with Pokémon GO that they didn’t worry about the app’s permission settings while it was being installed. However, unlike most other websites and applications that only request permissions for a few things, blogger Adam Reeve points out the Pokémon GO receives full access to your Google account – and it took it without even asking you. According to Google, this gives Pokémon GO the ability to “see and modify nearly all information in your Google Account.”
Although Pokémon GO can’t make payments with Google Wallet, delete a Google account or change your password, the level of access it had to your children’s mobile device is worrisome. In addition, the issues with Pokémon GO’s app permissions have brought up questions about the permissions requested by other applications, both on Android and Apple devices.
Right in time for the hectic back-to-school season, I’ll show you how to find the app permissions in your children’s’ mobile devices, what they mean, and how you can keep their digital identities safe while using these apps before and after school.
What are App Permissions?
When your child downloads an application and connects it to your device, you must typically grant the application certain “permissions.” These app permissions allow the application access to specific components of your device, such as your location, profiles, accounts and other such information. In some cases, permissions may even allow the application to post on your child’s behalf. With most applications, they’ll have to agree to allow the app certain permissions when they download and install it, or when they connect it to their account. However, some applications may have taken certain permissions without requesting them.
How Do I Know What Permissions My Children’s Apps Have?
Searching for an app’s permissions will let you know what information it is accessing. However, the steps you must take to review an app’s permissions depends on the type of device you children are using. If you’re using an Android device with Android 6.0, you can review and alter app permissions by:
- Open the “settings” application.
- Select “apps” under the “device” heading.
- Select “permissions” to view and change the permissions granted to various apps.
Keep in mind that older applications may not work as intended if you revoke their permissions. In addition, older versions of Android do not allow you to access app permissions in this manner. If you have an older version of Android, you may be able to manage app permissions by downloading a modification designed specifically for this purpose.
If your children have an Apple device, such as an iPhone or iPad, you can review and manage app permissions by:
- Open the “settings” app.
- Scroll down to the list of applications at the bottom of the screen.
- Tap each individual app’s name to check its permissions. From this screen, you will also be able to turn various permissions on and off.
As with Android, it may also be possible to manage app permissions on an Apple device by downloading an application designed for this purpose.
Why Do Applications Need Permissions?
In most cases, mobile apps request permissions in order to function properly. In the case of Pokémon GO, for example, the application requires access to the phone’s GPS and camera in order to operate the game. Developers may also use the information they gain from app permissions to track the usage of their apps, learn more about their target demographic, improve marketing or improve the app’s functionality. However, in other cases, app permissions that are not required for proper functioning or other innocent purposes may be requested, leaving your children’s personal information accessible to app developers and/or hackers.
Are My Kids’ Security at Risk?
If you haven’t been monitoring your children’s’ app permissions carefully, both their security and privacy may be at risk. When downloading a mobile app, many people simply skip past the permissions request screens in order to expedite the process. However, failing to review these requests may leave your children’s devices vulnerable. In addition, some installed apps may have already taken permissions without asking. If you haven’t taken the time to review permissions on your child’s phone after each new installation, they may be granting apps access to certain parts of their account or device without your knowledge.
Certain permissions are more likely to put your security at risk than others. These permissions include:
- Finding or using accounts. – Some apps may ask for permission to find and/or use accounts connected to the device. This permission can be dangerous because it may allow the app to impersonate the individual using these accounts.
- Permissions related to text messages. – If an app asks for permission to read, edit or send messages with your child’s device, beware. These permissions not only put their privacy at risk, but they can also cost you money.
- Reading or modifying contacts. – Some apps with a social component may require access to contact information. However, if the access seems unfounded, the app may be malicious. Don’t allow an application to access or modify your child’s contact list unless you trust it completely.
- Access phone status and identity. – As with access to contacts, access to the phone’s status and identity is sometimes required for the proper functioning of the app. However, if it doesn’t seem like a logical request, think twice before allowing an app access to this information.
- Access to your location information. – Apps can use this permission to pinpoint your children’s exact location at any given time. While this permission may be necessary for some apps, such as Pokémon GO or apps related to local traffic, it can be dangerous to provide this information to a third-party app.
Tips for Managing App Permissions
To protect your children’s online privacy and unauthorized access or use of their accounts, follow these three quick tips:
1. Always read the fine print.
When your children install or connect a new application, always read the prompts so that you will know what permissions the app is requesting. In some cases, you may even be able to deny the app certain permissions without compromising its functionality. If you aren’t okay with the permissions the app is requesting and there is no way to deny them, cancel the installation and find an alternative app.
2. Check for permissions after the app has been installed.
After your child has installed a new mobile app, check its permissions from the setting screen or with an app permissions explorer to make sure that it didn’t take any unauthorized permissions.
3. Grant the riskiest permissions sparingly.
Be careful about granting any of the permissions typically identified as “risky,” including permission to access accounts, utilize SMS or MMS, access your child’s contact list, access their phone status and identity, and access to their location information. Don’t agree to these permissions unless they’re absolutely necessary for the app’s function and you’re confident that the app is safe.
For additional tips and information on how to keep your children safe online, take a look at some of these resources on our blog and website!