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Website last up-dated 2020-06-17

Tim Cliffe - Blog

What Are Your Mobile Apps Doing Behind Your Back?

01 Target Audience

(01.1) Anyone who uses Apps on a mobile device, and is concerned about their privacy and security.

02 Executive Summary

(02.1) We are all aware of the concerns that exist regarding on-line security and privacy, with constant reports of fraud, scams, and identity theft.


(02.2) This blog presents an argument for being selective about using mobile Apps. The blog also presents evidence as to why some Apps are simply not necessary.

03 Structure of This Article

  • (04) You Don't Mind if I Look at Your Phone (Cell)?
  • (05) When you Install an App.
  • (06) You are being Tracked
  • (07) What has this to do with Apps not being Necessary?
  • (08) Conclusion

04 You Don't Mind if I Look at Your Phone (Cell)?

Image of a cafe.


(04.1) To help make my point, please consider the following scenario.


(04.2) You are sitting in a public place, at a table. Your mobile phone (cell phone) is on the table. Let's assume your phone doesn't have a screen-lock.


(04.3) Someone, who could be someone you know, or a complete stranger, walks up to your table, and without speaking, picks-up your phone and scrolls through your messages, media, e-mail, social media, web history, financial transactions, contacts list, call history, location history, diary, and anything else you may have stored on your phone. Now think about:
  • What your re-action would be?
  • How would you be feeling about what has happened?
  • What might you do, especially if it's a stranger?
  • What might you say?
(04.4) Now imagine the above scenario in a private or a public setting. Imagine your screen-lock making no difference whatsoever. Now imagine you can't even see who is looking at your phone, or when. Now imagine it doesn't even matter where your phone is. How are you feeling now?


05 When you Install an App.

Image of an App being installed.


(05.1) Do you remember what happens when you install an App? The App. displays a screen telling you it needs access to your contacts, media, and lots of other things. You select 'Install', because, if you don't, you can't use the App.


(05.2) What you have just done is give permission, to complete strangers, to access your phone, and its contents, at ANY time. "But," I hear you say, "I doesn't matter." May I suggest you go back to (04.3) and remember how you felt.

06 You are being Tracked

(06.1) But, it doesn't stop there. Have you ever used one of those Apps that tells you what the traffic is like? Have you ever wondered how the App. knows how many vehicles are in the traffic jam (tail-back) ahead?


(06.2) Your mobile phone (cell phone) uses a cellular network. The network operates through the masts you see installed by the side of roads and in towns and cities.


(06.3) Your mobile phone switches connection, between the masts as you travel. This switching allows your location to be tracked. If you have GPS enabled on your phone (many have), your position can be tracked to within a few feet (less than 1 metre).


Image of a traffic jam on a motorway.


(06.4) The movement of your phone (you) is analysed by the mobile system. If your phone (you) has been moving faster than average human running speed, you must be using a vehicle of some kind. If your location is on road X and you are not moving, and lots of other phones (people) are on the same road, and they are not moving, and there are no control systems in the area, such as traffic lights, there must be a traffic jam (tail-back).


(06.5) I'm not saying such information isn't useful, I'm just saying "you are being tracked". Remember the scenario at 04 above, and how you felt about it.

07 What has this to do with Apps not being Necessary?

(07.1) Keep in mind the points I have already raised about how mobile devices compromise your privacy and security.


(07.2) Which Apps are considered necessary is very much a personal matter. However, I would argue some Apps are not necessary, especially those Apps that show a 'mobile' version of a website.


(07.3) Do you remember the days when it was common to see, on a website, "This site is best viewed in Internet Explorer"? In fact some software, such as e-learning software, still specifies a browser of choice. Most people, these days, do not expect to see such notices. However, I suggest, the kind of Apps I am referring to here, are essentially doing the same thing.


(07.4) Why should there be a 'mobile' version of a website? Such mobile (App.) versions often have limited functionality and limited access to information. They often look different to the 'ordinary website' requiring you learn two different ways to access the same site. Isn't the premise behind the Web that everyone should have access to all the information available?


(07.5) It isn't difficult to design and develop a website that functions on any device, be it a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, or a mobile phone. It certainly doesn't cost any more, assuming websites are developed according to the web standards all web developers are aware of. It also saves the need (and cost) to develop and maintain a mobile App.


(07.6) Of course, a mobile App provides companies and organisations with access to information about you, already mentioned above. A website doesn't.


(07.7) To prove my point, the images below show two renderings of this website, which has been designed and developed to work on any device. The principles I have applied can work on any website, large or small.
This argument also applies to software that creates content to be accessed via the Web, such as e-learning software.

(07.7.1) on a Laptop

Image of on a laptop.
Date image created: 2019-03-25 at 09:32.
Device: MacBook Pro - MacOS Mojave Version 10.14.3 - Screen resolution of 1440 x 900.
Browser: Firefox Quantum version 66.0.1.

(07.7.2) on a Mobile Phone - Same Lay-out, Same Functionality

Image of on a mobile phone.
Date image created: 2019-03-25 at 09:32.
Device: Samsung J3 (2016) mobile phone - Android 5.1.1 - Screen resolution of 720 x 1280.
Browser: Firefox 62.0.3

08 Conclusion

(08.1) Our willingness to accept the demands of mobile Apps (access permissions to your device), simply to allow their use, needs to be given careful consideration. After all, you are allowing access to personal and private information you would not permit under other circumstances.


(08.2) We also need to consider if we really need an App. For example, a well designed website, or Web accessible resource, should not present any obstacle to a mobile device.

Use of this Article

Any part, or all, of this article may be linked-to or copied for non-commercial purposes. Any linked or copied content to include the following...


What Are Your Mobile Apps Doing Behind Your Back? by Tim Cliffe © 1997-2020.


Where use will be for commercial purposes, seek authorisation, including details of proposed use, via the Contact page.


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