App of the week: Lookout Mobile Security, including Privacy Advisor
There’s been a lot of news recently about the personal and private information accessed by apps on my smartphone. If I use Facebook Places to share where I am with friends, it’s pretty obvious the Facebook app needs access to my location. However, sometimes apps access my info for reasons that are not so obvious.
When I install an app on my Android smartphone a list of the permissions the app needs to run is shown to me, but often I’ll just accept the request and install the app without properly reviewing the terms and conditions.
Telstra already recommends Lookout Mobile Security, including Privacy Advisor, to let me see what private information an app is accessing. So even if I’ve already accepted a permission request from an app at installation, with Lookout installed on my Android Smartphone, I’ll be warned if another app is using private information which I may not like to share.
Generally, on mobile platforms apps are fairly inexpensive – $2.99 is not an unusual price. But I can also get free apps where the developer makes their money from advertising inside the app. For many of us, this is an easy way to get a lot of great apps on our phones without having to check the credit card balance too often.
The advertising inside the app is usually provided by what is known as a Mobile Ad Network. Ad Networks, both on my phone and on my PC, often collect information about my browsing behavior and the ads I’ve clicked through. This can be used to help them show me ads which are more relevant to me in the future.
Since last year, Lookout started to see some mobile ad networks adopt increasingly aggressive methods of ad delivery. They were particularly concerned about ad networks which:
- push out-of-app ads to the default Android notification bar,
- place generically designed icons on the mobile desktop and
- change browser settings, like bookmarks or homepages.
A few weeks ago Lookout released Ad Network Detector for free in the Android Market. Ad Network Detector helps me to scan the apps on my Android device for the presence of any known ad networks, including those capable of displaying out-of-app ads.
If the Ad Network Detector identifies an ad network of concern within an app on my phone, it will place the information that Lookout have gathered about it at my fingertips. This includes a description of what types of ads can be displayed, as well as what personal information is collected by an app.
With easy access to this information, I’ll be able to decide whether I want to keep an app that contains ad networks which may be of concern on my phone.
Ensuring Telstra Mobile customers who use Android smartphones are aware of the Lookout Ad Network Detector is another step we’re taking to help your privacy and security on our mobile networks.