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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > December 2020 > Getting A New Device? Take Steps to Secure It and Stay Safe

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Getting A New Device? Take Steps to Secure It and Stay Safe

As the holidays and a new year approach, plenty of Ohioans are looking forward to getting a new electronic device. What do you need to know before you start downloading apps? Plenty, including the red flags of a fake app as well as key parts of an app’s privacy policies.

Fake apps look like legitimate apps and appear to function the same way that a legitimate app does – both done intentionally so that users are inclined to download them. Once you download a phony app, though, it might begin to steal your personal information, load malicious content on your device and/or aggressively display unwanted advertisements.

Here are some red flags to help you determine whether an app may be phony:
  • Look for changes or misspellings in an app name and logo. Be sure to research the developer’s name and the proper name of the app. Typically, you should even be able to click on the developer’s name to find its other apps.
  • Read app reviews for any problems that other users have identified with the app. A high number of negative comments could indicate that the app is fake or too risky to download until some of the kinks are resolved.
  • Check the date of the app. Most popular apps have been out for a while, and you should see an “updated on” date instead of a publication date. If you see a very recent publication date, be sure you have chosen the correct app.
  • Be leery of too-good-to-be-true discounts. If you see a bargain, remember that the developers of fake apps may use these promotional prices to lure you into downloading their fake apps.
  • Look at the developer screenshots that are typically included in the app store to help you understand how the app functions. If the screenshots are Photoshop images or use words or taglines unusual to the developer, be careful. The app could be phony.
  • Read the description of the app, again looking for misspellings or text possibly written by an automated robot instead of a human developer. Most legitimate developers thoroughly describe their app in language understandable to the average user.
  • Look at the current number of downloads indicated. Popular apps are typically downloaded millions of times. A phony app may have, say, only 1,000 downloads.
  • Review the permissions requested by the app to be fully functional. A fake app might request permissions that may be unnecessary or unrelated to the app. Always be concerned if the app requests permissions that make you uncomfortable.
For parents of children using a device, consider what parental controls you may be able to use or download to help ensure that your children’s activities and downloads are age-appropriate. Some controls may help keep your children safe and away from predators. Also, be aware that some scams occur through purchases made directly from the app (known as “in-app purchases”) after you download it. For parents, talk with your kids about watching out for “free” offers that may be costly scams, and consider blocking in-app purchases or making them password-protected so that your child makes no in-app purchases without your permission. You may also consider controlling the password needed to download apps so that you are aware of all apps downloaded by your child.
Reviewing an app’s privacy policy before supplying any personal information is another way to protect yourself. The privacy policy is where companies outline and justify why they collect and, depending on the company, might share or sell your personal information, as well as what the company does to try to protect your data.

Within the privacy policies, look for opportunities to “opt out” of sharing personal information with third parties for marketing purposes. Also, see whether the privacy policy allows you to delete or correct the personal information that it has gathered and stored. If you’re not comfortable with sharing your personal information as outlined in the privacy policy, question whether you really need the app on your device, or whether an alternative app might better suit your needs.