DAILY INSIGHT: Smartphone or Spyphone?

By Jon Castelhano, CIO Advisor


I must admit that I have drug my feet a bit adopting new smartphones over the years. In all fairness, I am lucky enough to be provided a phone through my employer and for that I am extremely grateful. Our smartphones have allowed my staff and me to answer tech tickets, research issues and contact one another, at any hour of the day. Until recently, however, we have used our phones until they can no longer be fixed with electrical tape and super glue, then the spares are used until they turn into dust as well. Because of this I hung on to my Blackberry(s) for far too long until graduating to an HTC Windows phone about a year ago and, most recently, a Samsung SIII. With the addition of the iPhone 5C as a choice now, we are finally living closer to what the real world has available to them.

One topic that has been coming up recently in conversation with all the media buzz around NSA, security and Skynet conspiracy theories, is app permissions. Each app that I download seems to have additional permissions that seem very invasive. Don't get me wrong—eight out of 10 times I am still going to download the app; however, I need someone to explain to me why a flashlight app needs permission to take pictures and videos without my confirmation. Another permission that seemed a bit troubling was an app that asks for permission to my messages and asks for the ability to edit, read, receive, monitor and possibly delete my text messages without making me aware of the actions. I'm not concerned yet about Neo having to levitate in on the Nebuchadnezzar and save humankind from intelligent machines, rather where is the line for why an app needs permission for deleting a text that I haven't read yet?

Carry On

I am not going to retire my beloved Android phone because of a few app permissions I think may be stretching a bit; at least Android makes me aware of these permissions. What is a good idea is to take some time and become more familiar with why an app may need the permission it is asking for. I stumbled across the "Why Does This Android App Need So Many Permissions?" article on lifehacker that contains a number of great resources on app permissions, including why they are necessary for certain app functions and what to look out for. With close to a million Android apps and over a million apps in the iPhone app store, it is safe to say that we need to be aware of what we are downloading to our pockets. As a bonus, this may be a great opportunity to introduce our younger generation to Arnold and the T1000 in a teachable moment about becoming responsible cyber citizens!

Jon Castelhano is director of technology for Apache Junction USD in Arizona. This blog is cross posted on his blog, This and That.