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Shedding Light on the Flashlight App

A cable-based news network reported that flashlight apps on Android-based phones can steal data. It created a stir in the general and technical news media. Yes, somebody could write an app that can track some of your activity (and sell it to marketers) or could launch a virus. But there’s a bigger-picture lesson to be learned: Use common sense.

Let’s start with a few of “givens.”

First, there’s always someone out there trying to get your data and resell it – whether it’s your sensitive personal information or just some data to help a marketer target you. Ultimately, you have the responsibility to protect your data – though we can help you put systems in place.

Second, you have control over what gets installed on your device. You need to take time and care when you download and install apps to make sure they are safe and secure.

Third, if you have an iPhone or an iPad with a camera, you have no reason to download a third-party app for your flashlight. It’s been there since the release of iOS 7.

With that being said, what’s going on with the flashlight apps? You can dig into some of this yourself, starting with a report from Fast Company about the app Brightest Flash sharing location and device ID information. (Please note, most of you allow this information to be used with many other apps, such as those that provide directions while you drive somewhere.) The app’s developer was automatically sharing location and device information with advertisers and other third parties–even when users opted out. In fact, before they could accept or refuse the app’s terms, it was already collecting and sending information.

That got scaled up in a special report on a cable news channel, in which viewers were told this could be bigger than Ebola. What further rankles me is that the report on the How-To Geek website made specific references to the iPhone flashlight app, which is built into your device. It made a mountain out of a molehill.

However, the report noted: “The fact is that Android app permissions are a mess and you have very little control over what apps can do once you’ve agreed to install the application other than just trusting Google. Your best bet is to avoid installing apps that have permissions that look suspect, or only install apps from really reputable companies.”

All of this brings us back to why I like the iPhone and Apple apps. Apple may come across as control freaks, but the company vets all of its apps and app developers to give you better protection. Some device users find that restrictive; I find it comforting.

To be sure, hackers and virus writers are looking to invade Apple computers and devices, and it’s only a matter of time until they succeed often enough to create problems. For now, our advice is – as always – to look before you click and decline if you’re not sure. Also, as always, never hesitate to call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us if you have any questions about any apps you’d like to download.