AG: What consumers should know about apps


LITTLE ROCK — Need to keep up with class schedules and homework? There’s an app for that.

Solve a math problem? Find a cheap place to eat? There’s help at the touch of a button.

Install a virus or steal personal information? Regrettably, yes, there are apps for that, too.

More than half of American mobile-phone users own smart phones, which give users the convenience of downloading “apps,” or software applications, for a variety of tasks that range from paying bills to playing games. Most are quick to download and many are free. However, a few apps could contain malicious software and some could be used to extract sensitive personal data from a mobile device.

Since many students are expected to install new apps as they head back to school, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this consumer alert to answer questions about mobile apps and their safety.

“There are so many mobile apps out there today that do things to make our lives a little easier, and sometimes we forget that a few of them could contain viruses or be mechanisms for collecting personal information,” McDaniel said. “It’s important that consumers download apps from trusted sources and understand what data could be downloaded from a phone or mobile device.”

When downloading an app, consumers will often be asked for permission to collect certain information from the device. Often, that data is used for the benefit of the consumer, such as the necessity of mapping apps to be able to pinpoint a user’s exact location.

Keep in mind, though, that apps could be used to download not just a location, but phone and email contact lists, call logs, texts, Internet history, calendar data, information about how the app is used and the unique identifiers specific to a device. Some companies may collect this information and share it with other entities.

McDaniel advised consumers to research the creator of the app and what the app is intended for before downloading it. If the app store doesn’t supply information about the company that developed the app, then the app may not be trustworthy, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Hackers have created apps that can infect phones and other mobile devices with malicious software, known as malware. Such apps could contain spyware or viruses. Malware can be used to send text messages or emails that the phone user did not write or to download other apps that the user did not select or purchase.

Consumers who believe their phones have been infected with malware should contact customer support for the company that made the device, notify the mobile-phone service carrier and install a trusted security app to scan and remove malware apps.

McDaniel recommended that consumers keep their apps up to date by installing any new versions or upgrades, which may have security patches that will better protect information.

He also noted that many apps that are “free” to consumers may have advertising within the app, promote a paid version of the same app that contains upgraded features, or advertise for paid individual features within the app itself.

For more information about this and other consumer-related issues, visit the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division website, www.GotYourBackArkansas.org, or call (800) 482-8982.