Your smartphone’s operating system provides access to device functions or to your personal data to third-party apps, upon request. For each app, Android lists the functions or data requested, and requires you to grant wholesale permission in order to install the app. It’s a good idea for you to be familiar with this concept and understand more about app permissions.
Android App Permissions—What Do They Mean?
When you install a new app on your phone, you’ll probably see something like this:
Facebook on Samsung Galaxy Note 4, Android 4.4.4
But when do apps really need access to all of this information, and when does signing off on said access compromise your privacy and security?
Your personal opinions will play a role in how you approach handing out app permissions. Those with an extensive history of smartphone use likely don’t bat an eyelash when confronted with a list of permissions.
On the flip side, new smartphone users may feel overwhelmed and alarmed at how much private data a cookbook app, for example, needs to know about you.
Bottom line—if you want to install and use the most popular apps on your phone, there’s no way around agreeing to their permissions. Either you tap “yes” and begin downloading an app, or you hit “no” and nothing happens.
Here, we’ll take a look at some of the most common app permissions, what they mean, and when you should think twice about granting them.
This allows an app to read data about your contacts, including how frequently you communicate. Any messaging app you install will need this information, so expect it to pop up for apps like Whatsapp and Twitter. Otherwise, question why the developer of a calculator app needs to know how many times per week you call grandma.
The second point allows an app to read from AND write to your calendar, as well as. In addition, this app is capable of sharing or saving your calendar info, regardless of whether or not it’s private. If you’re installing an app that isn’t a calendar or task management tool, and it asks for access to your calendar, pass on it.
The app can locate you using GPS, Wi-Fi, or cell towers. This is simple – any time an app provides a location-based service, this will pop up. From Facebook to Kayak to Yelp, your phone’s location, and by extension your location, comes into play at some point.
There’s really no way around it, and you’d be surprised how many apps use location-based services. You should only be skeptical of this permission if there is absolutely no way an app needs to know where you are. One caveat is that some developers gain revenue from location-based ads, so keep that in mind when downloading free apps.
Network Communications or Wi-Fi Information
The app can create and use its own connections to the internet. In other words, if an app uses ads, facilitates communication, or features premium downloadable content (such as Viber’s sticker market), then it needs to access your network communications. Otherwise, be wary of developers who make this claim.
Allows the app to access calling features on your phone, letting it see your phone number and determine when a call is active. Some apps have a legitimate reason for monitoring phone calls. YouTube needs to know when your phone is ringing so it can pause your video, for example. Problems can arise when shady apps use this permission to store your phone number, so tread with caution.
How To Check Permissions for Previously Installed Apps
Like most boring, technical information on Android phones, your app permission information is nicely tucked away on your phone—readily accessible but not staring you in the face.
Simply go to your phone’s “Apps” section, press down on the app you want to check, and drag it up to area named “App Info.” A screen will then come up showing all the technical data about your app, along with its list of permissions.
Instagram on Samsung Galaxy Note 4, Android 4.4.4
These are among the most widespread permissions, but you’ll encounter many others when downloading apps. The best course of action is to use common sense. Decide how much or little information you’re willing to share with strangers, but know that almost every app comes with a hefty list of permissions.
Remember, Google restricts app developers to using certain permissions categories. Developers don’t have the liberty of renaming permissions if their app doesn’t fit exactly into those guidelines, so it’s not as if you need to sign your life away every time you download a new app.
If you’re still in doubt, try contacting the app developer. Ask them why they need access to certain information. If their answer isn’t acceptable to you, don’t download the app!