If you have a smartphone or tablet, chances are you have at least one running Android, far and away the most popular mobile operating system according to IDC. One of the great things about Android, a quality that definitely adds to its popularity, is the open nature of the platform. Anyone can write an Android application, called an “app” for short, and there are literally millions to choose from.
One thing Google did right with Android was making application developers disclose what permissions on your phone or connected device are needed for the application to do its job. Due to the way permissions are structured in the Android operating system, developers have to ask up front for all the permissions they’re ever going to need. A few developers tend to err on the side of asking for the earth, moon and stars all at once.
Some permission requests are both logical and reasonable; one would expect your email program to need the Internet connection and to be able to access your contacts. Other times some of the requests seem a bit invasive and leave you wondering. Here are some of the scary permissions requests — and what they mean.
Why Does a Game Need to Access My Phone?
There are good reasons for a game to be able to read the phone state and identity of a caller, and generally it’s okay to let an app do that. If you’re playing a game and someone calls your phone, the app has to be able to interrupt your game to tell who’s calling — and then pick up where you left off after you hang up. In order to do that, the app needs to read the phone state and identity of the caller.
Don’t confuse reading the phone state with making phone calls, which is an extremely dangerous permission to give an application. With that nasty permission, sometimes called Process Outgoing Calls, an app could start calling 900 numbers and stick you with the bill. Yet Google Voice needs that permission and, like my brother the computer security expert always tells me, you have to trust someone. Trusting Google Voice is an easy call (pun intentional), but if a game asks for that permission be very wary.
Full Internet Access
This is another one that sounds scary, but is usually pretty benign. An application like Any.Do, a fantastic way to organize your time and appointments, will need the Internet to sync your calendars and appointments with other devices. Almost any application that needs mapping or GPS services will need access to your Internet connection. Games use your internet connection to serve up ads, and send gameplay statistics home to momma.
Send and Receive SMS or MMS
Be instantly suspicious of any app that asks for this permission. Again, it depends on what kind of application is asking. Any.Do needs this permission to send you notifications about missed calls and changes to meeting schedules. If a race car game asks to send text messages from your phone, cancel the installation.
Applications like Google Now, Any.Do, and many others need this permission to access and sync with Google Services. All the same, you’re giving an application on your phone permission to access online accounts like your Gmail and Facebook accounts. Be very careful, and ask yourself if there’s a good reason an app would need to access your email or social media accounts.
Read Sensitive Logs
I always give that request a second look. Why does that application think it needs to read the data other applications have written to storage? That sensitive data might include login and other information that’s really no one else’s business. This is a very risky permission to hand an application, and my personal default is to decline.
Modify/Delete SD Card Contents
While somewhat broad, this is another fairly routine permission. Most of the time you prefer to have applications writing data and files to the SD card whenever possible. This is a very powerful permission, yet mostly benign when it comes to the actual application.
If you walk away with anything from this article, take away a commitment to read what applications are asking to do on your phone or mobile device and think about whether it’s a good idea to let a game make phone calls or send text messages. A little bit of awareness goes a long way.