Stop, Think, Who do you want to share your life with? (@asaltbde)

Application Permissions on Android

Social media is a great way to share information about what we like with our friends. There are so many different types of information we can share, from photos and videos to our location. We choose to share this information. It’s a conscious decision, like sending a tweet with our holiday location attached, or posting a photo of our child’s birthday. Given our demand for all things social, many device application providers have moved to make their applications socially aware. For example applications may wish to read our address book, to see who our friends are, or track our location to see where our friends are or our proximity to a service or event. Is that what we really want?

I love sharing knowledge and information, but I do object to the type of applications that are now becoming socially aware, and the impact that has on my personal privacy (regardless of their disclaimers). Suddenly it seems, applications which should only require a limited set of permissions on your android device, now need far more as they pack in those extra social features that perhaps you never wanted and likely won’t use.  I can understand a virus scanner app may need a lot of permissions, but other applications like games, newspapers or bible apps for example, simply don’t need to access all my personal information, my text messages or my location. I’ve noticed a recent trend over the last few months. Each time an Android app updates itself, it requests more permissions. It’s easy to just accept the ‘OK’ prompt and get on with life, but you may want to stop and think.

  • Am I willing to give this application the permissions it has requested?
  • Does it seem reasonable, given what the app does, for it to request these permissions?
  • Is there an alternative that requires less permissions?

There are plenty of alternative apps out there that don’t require those extra permissions. For example, I’ve recently switched my bible app to the free Amplified Bible. It doesn’t have any bells and whistles, it’s simply, a bible. The only permissions it requires are ‘full network access’ and ‘install shortcuts’. That’s exactly what I would expect. This app is supported by adverts (but also works offline), hence the full network access. I am willing to give this application the permissions it has requested because they do seem reasonable, given what the app does.

If you’re using an iOS device like an iPhone or iPad, you are not immune to this, you just may not know about it yet. Apple’s iOS lets apps read contacts without requesting any sort of permission, according to this article.

So I’d like to encourage you to think about what permissions you grant applications on Android. If you don’t believe the apps should need the permissions they have requested, then move on, and vote with your feet. Install an alternative which doesn’t require that you share your private information with the company who wrote the application. Stop, think, who do you want to share your life with?

About Andrew Salt

Andy is the Social Media Officer for @StPaulsCamb in Camberley, Surrey and the @StMikesOpen4All project (#CNMAC12 runner-up for most creative use of social media). He built up a presence on various social networks for St Paul's, and learned an awful lot, from some really nice people, along the way. He loves Android, and uses a stack of apps to help him carry out his role at St Paul's. Oh, and did I mention attending @DigitalSurrey :)