Being Cyber Safe With Third-Party Apps

Image depicts technology users and many icons for Third (3rd) Party Applications.

FaceApp, a Russia-based mobile application to add filters to photos, has incited conversations about privacy, data ownership, and cyber-safety in the past week. Users were surprised to learn that the app’s creators are harvesting data from their photos. However, third-party apps have been around for a long time and FaceApp is not doing anything unusual. If you’re worried about FaceApp, there are probably other third-party apps you’re using that do the same thing.

What Are Third-Party Apps?

There are two different types of mobile applications for your devices: native applications and third-party applications. 

Native applications are software applications made by companies or individual developers who create for Apple or Google’s operating systems. Those manufacturers also create applications for their own devices.
A third-party app is any software application that is made by someone other than the mobile device manufacturer or operating system. Most apps that you can find for your device are third-party apps. An application that comes with your mobile device, like Mail for iPhone, would be a native app. If your classmate develops an app that allows you to post your class notes, that is a third-party app.

Is My Information at Risk?

There are also native and third-party app stores to download apps for your devices. Apple’s AppStore and Google Play are both official app stores that offer native and third-party apps. Most third-party apps in the official stores follow strict development criteria and are thoroughly vetted for malware, which makes them safe. Third-party app stores may not apply the same scrutiny towards their listed apps as Google and Apple.

Third-party app stores aren’t restrictive, which means that your phone’s operating system doesn’t control them – anyone can sell their app through a third-party. Now, third-party app stores may offer plenty of safe applications but there are higher chances of finding dangerous apps, ones that can infect your mobile device with malware. While it may sound like a good deal to buy popular apps at cheaper prices on a third-party store, it might put your data at risk in the same way third-party apps do.

That is why downloading third-party applications can put your devices at risk. Granting third-party apps permission to your data could mean giving cyber criminals access to your contacts, passwords, and financial information. Data breaches can happen to anyone, even big companies like Facebook. In early 2018, it was revealed that the data firm, Cambridge Analytica, accessed personal data of over 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge. 

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How Can I Protect My Data?

This is not the first time that a massive data breach has happened and certainly won’t be the last time. However, there are ways you can protect yourself by following a few simple steps.

  • Limit the amount of personal information you share on your account profiles. It will limit what data-scraping apps can pull from your profiles and protect your personal data.
  • Be aware of the information that third-party apps are wanting to access. Many apps ask for access to your messages, data, and contacts but have no reason to need those things. 
  • Read the terms and conditions when it comes to your data. You are in a binding contract when you agree to the terms and conditions. Know what you’re agreeing to before you hit ‘accept’.
  • Use a mobile security service to provide protection for your device. Bad third-party apps are out there. A mobile security service will keep you safer than you are without one.

Protecting your data starts with being aware of the threats and using common sense.

Helpful Links:
The Verge – FaceApp Privacy Concerns
Norton – Risks of Third Party App Stores
Economic Times – Be Careful of Permissions Given to Third Party Apps

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