With the fast pace of changes in the abilities of mobile applications, there is a need for heightened awareness among consumers about the sites they visit and more importantly, the apps they install.
A recent court ruling highlights this issues.
The Golden State Warriors had an app created that used location beacons to notify fans at their games of offers and seating upgrade opportunities. As part of the app functionality, it turns on the phone microphone and listens for audio queues from local beacons in the stadium. Based on the audio input, the app notifies the users of the specials.
One fan, having learned of how the app works, sued the app developers and the GSWs for wiretapping violations. Based on the app’s ability to turn on the microphone and record the audio, the claim was that it illegally recorded private conversations. Though it could technically do that, she did not present the court with evidence that it actually did and so the case was dismissed.
But, this case, legally valid or not, should serve as a warning for all of us to read the Apps’ capabilities and access rights with our phones before we install them. While there is no evidence that anything wrong was done by the GSWs, the ability to do something nefarious was build right into the app. Learning about this after the fact is too late.
Many app on the phone connect to almost all of the phone’s capabilities. From gps / location identification, audio recording and speakers, contacts… virtually any function of a mobile phone can be accessed by almost any application the users download and install.
Fortunately, companies like Apple and Google require that the app developers notify the phone users of the functions that app will have access to before they can install it. This gives the mobile phone owner an opportunity to approve or denied the installation of the app. However, it is questionable how many people even bother to read the notification prior to approving the application’s installation on their mobile device.
If you do read the notices, pay attention to the functions the app will access in relationship to the purpose the app will serve. For the above mentioned GSWs app, the function makes some sense, though the access is to a sensitive function. If the person who sued the GSWs had bothered to read the notification she would have know that the app could turn on the microphone and ‘listen’ to the conversations if the developers so chose. She could have weighed the benefit of the apps functionality with the access the app required in order to provide it.
This is true with all apps. Read the notice, decide if giving access to what it wants is worth it to you to have the app on your mobile device.