Is your App conspiring to make your private information public?


They help us make the most of our time and bring ease in our busy lifestyle with just a few clicks on our smartphone. Everyone has that one app that they just can’t do without. Be it an indispensable communication app, or to hail a cab in the end of an exhaustive party, or pay a pending utility bill without standing in a long queue or to locate a restaurant, or to listen to songs, or watch TV on the move, or play games, or set reminders, keep tab of exercise regime, check blood pressure, so on and so forth.

Fun, resourceful and make completing chores easier for all of us- let’s face it. We love apps!

And yet, there is this one small concern: some of the apps want way too much information, much more than they actually require.

We have a lot of valuable data stored in our phones- our friends’ names and addresses; our photos and videos; our recent searches on Google; our banking details, our e-mails and text messages. Would you feel comfortable knowing someone has access to this personal data and may be even misusing it for their benefit? The answer is a definite NO!

But some of the apps that we use on a daily basis, do access a lot of our data, round the clock. Now a couple of questions come to our mind, them being:

  • Why do app developers collect information from our phones (if we care to read the T&Cs carefully before hitting on “I Agree”, we would know)
  • Do they really need all that information for the apps to run?

Well, app developers need to access some of the data on the phone for the installation and functioning of the app. For eg: if we use an app to find cabs, the app would require our phone number, name and location. A reminder app would need to access our e-mails and planner to search for events and set reminders. Also apps collect our search history to make suggestions for us; help us find friends; look for a holiday destination; improve app based on our preference and usage.

This access to data becomes a concern when app developers start sharing this information with a third party for purely commercial reasons. Or if the site gets hacked…

When children download apps, (and they do download a lot of apps, right?) they keep checking the agree tabs, to finish the process. This is how they generally proceed:

  • App would like to access your contacts, pics, places-*check the box*
  • App would like to know your location- *check the box*
  • App might require to store your data to offer improved experience- *check the box*
  • App may share your information with third party-*check the box*
  • ‘I have read the terms and conditions and agree’-*check the box*
  • Confirm- *check the box*

And it’s done!!!

But children and adults may not realise exactly what data, they have allowed the app to access and share with others. Apps can easily collect personal information and some of them maybe sharing the personal information with third parties, while some redirect the user to a different site, which is to say, not the smartest thing to do in the age of phishing! The most common type of information collected by apps include name, address, phone number and photo, audio or video and some apps even tracking the user’s movements via GPS!

So how do developers get the info?

  • From social media accounts
  • From contact, gallery, media
  • From passwords stored on a website, payment gateway, free sites

A valid concern is that if the developers sell the data to a fraudulent third party or if the site gets hacked, this data will become public. Definitely not something, we want to experience for ourselves or even for our kids.

So what should one do?

  • Check the app and read reviews carefully before downloading
  • Read the T&Cs carefully, especially the permission that the app wants
  • Ask around; often friends who have used the app would be able to give good tips
  • Don’t jailbreak phones- it makes them more hackable
  • Use a PIN to secure your phone
  • Refrain from storing important passwords/documents on your phone
  • Always uncheck the ‘save my card details’ box when conducting financial transactions
  • Use a comprehensive mobile security solution

Until next time, when we meet via my blog, do remain cautious and read the fine print carefully before giving an app access to data on your device.

Remember, prevention is better than cure which holds ground even more when it’s for your own security and privacy!

Let’s make video gaming a safe experience for our children

So how about going to Vishal’s place over the weekend?” asked my son’s friend as the boys walked in last afternoon. My ears perked up. “Why, what’s on the weekend?”, I inquired, as I handed each of them a glass of juice.

Mom, our group of friends are planning to have a lengthy gaming session to mark the end of exams”.

Looking at the amount of time our children spend on video games, I had long planned to have a quick chat with everybody on the same. This would definitely work out, yes?

Yes, video gaming has many things going for it. For one, it is pure entertainment, with the ability to keep one or more players engrossed for hours. It also helps improve hand eye coordination, reflexes, concentration power, strategy-building ability and team spirit. In addition, it has been known to help dyslexic kids to learn faster. Finally, the sense of accomplishment and confidence on winning a game is immense.

And yet, it is equally true that gaming can become addictive and may affect eyesight, if a player spends hours at it. Further, some games contain inappropriate language, aggressive behaviour and violence that may negatively influence kids. Too many hours with devices can also make a child miss out on social activities.

What this means is that anything in excess is harmful; whether it be eating junk food, watching TV or gaming. Moderation is the key to reaping the benefits from an activity as well as enjoying a healthy life.

Ensure to run a check on the ESRB ratings and thus purchase only age-appropriate games for your kids. The ratings on the games offers details of the game content, language, violence level and recommended minimum age requirements which makes me take the appropriate decision while selecting games for my kids too.

Today gaming has become a rage. Game developers are striving to provide more complex, better quality, HD gaming experience to consumers.

If your children like gaming, why not surprise them by having a gaming party at home?

Just share these pointers with kids first:

  • No chatting without explicit approval from parents/ guardians– Online games allow you to connect and chat with strangers, who may or may not be who they profess to be. Make this the most important rule- no chatting without your approval!
  • Adopt due caution while connecting with strangers– Inform your kids against sharing personal details, photos and other information with online players.  And no meeting co-players offline without permission. Remind them that stranger = danger
  • Play games as per age– Ensure that your children play age appropriate games as a rule of thumb. This is important since a wrong match can lead to a child being exposed to inappropriate content. Many gaming houses tend to indicate the appropriate age on the cover today so remember to check that out when making a purchasing or gifting decision.
  • No imitating of gaming characters in real life– have a quick chat with your children to sensitize them if you find them becoming too involved in a character and copying mannerisms and language of the character. Help them understand that fantasy characters are only suited to the fictitious worlds.
  • Fixed timings– playing non-stop for hours can adversely affect the mental and physical health of gamers. Ensure to keep fixed play timings for kids who indulge in video games, and also use parental controls to set internet usage timings as suited to the age of kids. Drop in from time to time to supervise the session.
  • Share with Parents– have a word with fellow parents to see what games are advisable and healthy.

So go on, enjoy the fruits of technology! It is a fun way for family and friends to bond, spend time together and also learn. Ready, Steady, Game!

Teacher’s Day – Educating students about Cyber Safety

With a bit of mentoring, kids can become good digital citizens. This mentoring will help them stay safe online and yet empower them to make the most of technology. It is safe to say that gadget addiction can affect the health of a student as well as their academic life. The job of training responsible and safe internet users is thus, not limited to parents alone; schools and community too must collaborate to offer children a holistic environment that promotes academic and social development.

Schools are the second homes for children, where teachers replace parents as knowledge-givers and discipline-enforcers. Children tend to have greater faith in what their teachers tell them than their parents, especially when it comes to new technology. That’s why schools are the best options for imparting cyber safety education. Their contribution is vital in preparing children for the virtual world. Topics like cyber civics, cyber-etiquettes, cyber-hygiene and cyber-safety can be explained best in a classroom. Unfortunately, most schools offer only a brief coverage of cyber safety.

Therefore, in today’s blog post, I intend to touch upon how Teachers can guide netizens of the future. While these are only general guidelines, here’s how we can look at initiating some discussion topics with them depending on their age:

Discussion topics with Pre-tweens:

  • Asking for permission before using a device
  • How to close all tabs and why it isn’t safe to click on pop-ups (because of virus attacks)
  • That the concept of “Stranger = danger” exists online too
  • Bedtime is for stories & lullabies and cuddling with parents, so say bye-bye to video games after dinner
  • Informing parents if someone or some message bothers them online

Remember: This is the right time to start cyber safety training as their interest in online activities is comparatively less. The focus can be on enhancing social skills that will be helpful online too.

Discussion topics with Tweens:  

  • How to create a strong password and its importance
  • How to determine safe websites and apps. Also why to distrust free offers & lottery wins
  • Why should we follow age norms and avoid requests online that come in from strangers
  • Plagiarism: What is online stealing? Why it is wrong to download pirated content? (Creating an e-mail ID & safety measures to be employed to avoid scams, spams and hacks)
  • Why not to share pics and personal details generally

Remember: At this age, children tend to play games online, watch You-Tube videos and movies and create their own e-mail IDs. Hence the focus is on imparting education that helps them do this safely.

Discussion topics with Teens:

  • Digital hygiene and security; installing and running security software, keeping ID and personal details private and connecting wisely
  • Digital footprints and consequences; especially its impact on college admissions and recruitment
  • Digital safety: How to identify a potential threat, like scam, phishing attack, predators
  • Digital ethics- Identifying right or wrong practices in cyber space
  • Digital addiction- How to control the urge to check messages, answer calls, play games at odd hours and when in company of people; why it is unhealthy to take devices to bed
  • Perils of hacking- It is important that these tech-savvy generation know that if they share details carelessly online their accounts can get hacked. In addition, if they hack someone’s account, they stand the danger of facing legal consequences
  • How to stand up to cyberbullying Consequences of cyberbullying

Remember: By this age, children may start signing up on social media, join hangouts and various other online communities. They might interact with stranger’s online and sharing information and experiences. This therefore seems like the right time to reinforce their learning of ethical practice, etiquette, safety and security tools, don’t you think? This Teacher’s Day, it’s my sincere hope that schools and education boards recognise the importance of digital literacy and take steps to include it.

Stay safe online folks!!

A very Happy Teacher’s Day to all great souls who serve the community selflessly by ‘igniting generations of young minds’**

** (My tribute to two of modern India’s, most revered teachers- the shining torch bearers of education, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and Dr.A.P.J. Abdul Kalam)