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The Resource Center Online Security Issues & Protection The Resource Center | article

Can Your Apps Read Your Private Text Messages?

Mobile-App-Text-MessagesMany if not most smartphone users are unaware of just how much access and control they have given their downloaded apps. Believe it or not, some programs that are currently operating on your phone may be able to read your text messages, see your pictures and use your camera and/or microphone.

Trustworthy companies may have legitimate reasons for asking you to grant these permissions. For example, a messaging app may need to access your photos so that you can easily send them to your contacts. However, disingenuous app developers may use your personal information for their own gain. Here are detailed explanations of app permissions for Android users, according to Google's support page.

  • In-app purchases: This permission allows a developer to sell you additional features while you are using an app. For instance, you may opt to have an ad-free experience for an extra fee.
  • Device and app history: The app is allowed to see your web bookmarks and browsing history, retrieve running apps, get the system's internal state and see sensitive log data.
  • Cellular data settings: The program can access your mobile data connection settings and possibly even the data you receive.
  • Identity: An app can read and change your contact card, containing your name and other personal information. It can also find, add and remove accounts on your smartphone.
  • Contacts/Calendar: This permission may allow a program to both see and change your contacts. It can also let the program see confidential information on your private calendar, and can add or change events and send email updates to contacts without your knowledge.
  • Location: GPS and network-based tracking are shared with app managers, letting them see your approximate or precise location.
  • SMS: SMS permissions may let a program read and send text messages, including pictures and videos, from your phone without your knowledge. You could incur associated SMS charges from your phone carrier.
  • Phone: Did you know that apps with phone permissions may be able to legally make calls directly from your number? Again, this could result in extra charges on your cell phone bill. Such programs can also view and change your call history and reroute calls you are trying to make to others.
  • Photos/Media/Files: Enabling this permission lets third-parties view, change and delete information stored on your phone, including photos.
  • Camera/Microphone: Say cheese! You technically may have given app managers permission to take pictures and videos and record audio from your phone, without telling you.
  • WiFi: A program can see whether you are connected to a wireless Internet network and, if so, which one.
  • Device ID: An app can see your phone number, cellular device ID, whether you are using the device and other numbers with which you are communicating.
  • Other: Some apps may include customized permissions. Be sure to review these carefully and understand what access and control you are allowing.

Once you have double-checked and approved all permissions that you have granted to your smartphone programs, be sure that you are also using a hard-to-crack, unique password for each account. After all, you don't want a cyber criminal to have access to sensitive information by gaining control of your apps! We suggest using a password manager to keep track of your various login data. These digital vaults are easy for you to use but difficult for identity thieves to access. They can hold a large number of distinct entry codes, allowing you to employ a different password for each account.