Data collection is a brave new world for consumers and companies alike. There is no escaping it, nor is there the ability to avoid it at some level. That is why many privacy conscious consumers seek out virtual privacy networks (VPNs) in order to attain some shred of discretion. This conundrum begs the question, “How do you scrutinize before downloading?”
Generally, consumers should be more skeptical when selecting their apps. There are pitfalls when choosing something about which you’re not completely educated. Ironically, the internet isn’t the best place to help, as reviews are often designed to push you toward a particular product more than help you make an informed decision.
That’s why in today’s app-happy climate recent headlines should have you questioning the way we choose applications for ourselves as well as our children. Life was simpler when the con artists used known buzzwords like “Nigerian Prince” in their email to coax you for information. Before that, golden-agers like myself would use the term “Trojan Horse.” Today’s phrase seems to be “app of the day.”
Second, if the app is free, you should ask yourself how this company makes money. The company is obviously spending thousands of dollars on PR and marketing efforts to get its “free service” in front of you. You have to wonder who would finance this kind of operation. If a business is not charging for their services, there are several ways it can make money – it can allow other companies to advertise to you through the app, or it can sell your data – such as tracking your regular location stops, shopping habits or frequent searches – to third parties. Some companies make money doing a combination of both, and oftentimes, this information is not easy to find because it would make you reconsider downloading.
Finally, you should ask, who is behind this company? Too many bad actors rely on the consumer instinct to leap before they look to simply hide who is behind the business by not revealing any information. The absence of a company history or contact information should raise red flags aplenty. If there are no photos, no bios of the company executives and no way to contact a business, then how can you decide whether you can trust this company with your data?
Another word of caution for consumers is that even a genuine company that has the latest and greatest app should not automatically justify downloading. Take the recent mess from Strava, for example. Strava is an exercise app designed to “enhance” your sports activity by sharing your workout paths and allowing you to see other popular trails to get your fit on. When the company published a global map of users’ cool paths, a detailed trail some military personnel use to exercise was revealed to the world, along with a layout for a few secret facilities. Strava is not trying to be the Edward Snowden of the app world, but the company has made its way into being the latest parable for the privacy conscious.
On its website, Strava clearly describes its intention to users and how collected data will be used. Every user should have asked themselves the three questions. If certain military personnel had, they would have realized quickly that maybe sharing the geolocation of paths along secure facilities isn’t the best app for me.
So before you download that next app, do exactly what you do when a prince shoots you an email asking for your bank account. Ask questions before sharing your personal information.
About the Author
Ron Yokubaitis is CEO of Golden Frog, a global online VPN services provider through VyprVPN that ensures consumer privacy and security online, and its sister company Data Foundry, a data center services provider headquartered in Austin, TX.