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Guidry: Bad apps cause mobile headaches

Published: Friday, July 25, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

Not all apps are safe, even if you buy them through approved channels. It’s likely that you already have some ringers among the legitimate apps on your smartphone or tablet.

Why develop bad apps? Because it’s easy money. Some of them are malware. Others are data gatherers or password harvesters. The worst can activate your device’s cameras, microphone and location settings, stalking you wherever you go.

Still other apps are not necessarily malicious but badly programmed, asking for too much of your data and not telling you what they’ll do with it. Even well-programmed apps can behave badly if they demand more data than they need to perform their tasks.

As with computer viruses, the easiest way to deal with bad mobile apps is to avoid them. Unfortunately it’s hard to tell the difference between a good app and a bad one. Always research an app before you install it. Don’t rely exclusively on the store reviews as they may also be fake.

For a broader perspective, do a Web search for the name of the program and the word “review.” Was the app made by a reputable developer? What support do they offer? What do other customers think? It’s best to go with an app that has an established user base and reputation.

Even if the app is legit, it may require in-app purchases that are not immediately obvious. Again, a check of customer satisfaction can reveal potential downsides. If you’ve been the victim of clandestine in-app purchases, you may be able to request a refund from your device’s vendor.

Avoid jailbreaking your phone. To jailbreak means to reconfigure the device to use third-party programs, usually against the manufacturer’s advice. You’re already at risk if you obtain apps via recommended means, so you can imagine the additional risk you undertake if you install apps from unauthorized sources. Parents, your kids may already know how to jailbreak their devices. Use parental controls to limit access to configuration settings and app purchases, and talk to your kids about the dangers of jailbreaking and fake apps.

Every mobile device needs an antivirus app. Unfortunately, fake apps love to masquerade as antivirus. Android users can try free antivirus from avast! and Sophos, while iOS options include Intego VirusBarrier and Avira. Many traditional security companies such as Symantec (Norton) and McAfee also offer mobile antivirus.

Usually your manufacturer’s standard uninstall process will remove unwanted apps. If you need to clean your device from scratch, you’ll need to perform a backup then a reset, according to your manufacturer’s guidelines. When you recopy your apps, be sure to include only those that you are certain you want. Make sure your devices are always using the latest versions of their system software.

You should have the opportunity to know the pros and cons before you invest in any product. By checking out apps before you install them, you’ll have peace of mind in knowing exactly what’s on your mobile devices.

• Triona Guidry is a freelance writer and IT specialist. Her Tech Tips blog, www.guidryconsulting.com/techtips, offers computer help and social media advice. She can be reached at info@guidryconsulting.com or via Twitter @trionaguidry.

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