It’s so easy to believe that you have nothing to hide, and that your flamboyant neighbor is of more interest to bad guys than your low-key daily comings and goings. It’s hard to believe that your daily life is of great interest to people other than your family and friends.
The truth is that prying eyes are recording your every phone click and swipe.
Phone app stores are overflowing with ostensibly useful or fun apps that have built-in spying and snooping functions. The snoopers are not necessarily criminals who are actively seeking to do you harm, but they nevertheless harvest your data without your knowledge and explicit permission.
It’s a given that the data-hungry marketers who observe you closely via their ubiquitous free phone apps have their own best interests at heart. They don’t spy on you for your welfare, but for their own.
Free Phone apps snoops on you
Do you check permission requests when you download and install a new app? True, a weather app may need to access your location to do its job. But does it truly also need access to your contacts, files, photos, and storage? Why would a recipe app or card game need access to your camera or microphone?
Apps continue to spy on you when you subscribe
We’ve all downloaded a free dating or banking app. Marketers know that users are more likely to subscribe to full services after a successful free trial period. What better way to introduce users to the product or service than with an upfront freebie?
‘Download our free app and enjoy the benefits immediately’ has become a fast, cheap way to gain new customers.
Marketers have also learned that when users lose interest in the product they don’t bother to remove unused apps, and that access to your data will remain long after you’ve abandoned the freebie.
What’s the harm?
At best, these apps will harvest your private information. Harvested data does the rounds from marketer to marketer in a never-ending whirligig, and it has become a very effective way for businesses of all sizes to generate a tidy income on the side.
Worst-case scenarios include identity theft, hacking, and even physical danger if you accidentally become a victim of malware.
Phone malware has become very sophisticated and can run in the background without you ever noticing anything out of the ordinary. Some Spyware and the even more malicious Stalkerware apps have even gained a stain of respectability due to their clever marketing strategies.
What can Apps do on your Phone?
Let’s start with data harvesting by seemingly innocuous, well-known apps with permission to access your phone storage: They can steal your contact details, photos, videos, documents, view your emails and messages, and log your call history, chats, and internet browsing.
Of more concern is the fact that parents are increasingly turning to parental control phone tools to monitor the safety and cyber-welfare of their children. Also, the COVID pandemic has forced millions to work from home, and in response, thousands of businesses have adopted employee monitoring tools to keep track of staff productivity levels.
These more sophisticated (and more malicious) apps can also record your phone calls, intercept your conversations on messaging apps like Skype, Facebook, and WhatsApp, and can use your device camera and microphone to take photos, take screenshots, or record conversations.
Rooted (Android) or jailbroken (iPhones) phones are under the complete control of a third party, and you may never even know that it’s there.
Some of the more notorious Spyware and Stalkerware apps are PhoneSpector, Spyera, FoneMonitor, MobiStealth, SpyBubble, Spyzie, and of course mSpy, SpyPhone Android Rec Pro, and FlexiSpy, which can take full control of smartphones.
Follow these tips to limit data harvesting from your Phone
1. Clean Up
Uninstall all nice-to-have apps and keep only the crucial ones. Clear out the clutter, remove unused apps, and move all photos and information you don’t need to secure storage on your PC or in the cloud.
2. Review Indispensable Apps
Review the permissions of all apps that you regard as indispensable to limit future exposure. If you can’t do without it you may need to accept the risk of the privacy invasion. As a rule, developers build mobile apps without concern for user privacy, and in worst-case scenarios may even design blatant data hoovers. Regard every app as a potential data harvesting tool.
3. Secure Your Phone
Next, install an antivirus (flexible mobile security solution). Always use the best mobile antivirus you can afford like Kaspersky, Malwarebytes, or Norton. While there are plenty of free mobile security apps in the Play store some of them are hardly better than the spyware they’re supposed to block.
Keep in mind that antivirus or security solutions can’t stop data harvesting by the apps that you’ve installed and granted permissions to.
4. Stay Out Of The Mobile App Store
Third-party, particularly free apps, are rife with malware. Use only the App Store or Google Play to download new apps, and choose applications by proven, trusted developers. Remember that potentially malicious applications with spyware capabilities do make it into the official stores. Examples are parental control or employee monitoring tools.
5. Read The Fine Print
Check permission requests before you install a new app. While it makes sense to allow geolocation for a route planning app it certainly does not need access to your contact list and photos. Unfortunately, developers usually bundle both necessary and unnecessary permissions together in an indiscriminate laundry list, which means that you must either allow all permissions or go without the app.
6. Keep Track Of Your Digital Exposure
A lot of your harvested or stolen information eventually finds their way into the public eye via dark corners of the internet. Review your digital (internet) profile regularly. Run a profile check on Nuwber every six months to see what information has been added. You’ll also spot unusual patterns or activities that may be the result of data theft by phone malware.
7. The New Privacy Normal
Our final tip? We deserve privacy, and therefore must take responsibility for our cyber-welfare. We don’t regard stinginess as a positive personality trait, but when it comes to our private data we have the right to stop sharing!