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by Ray DeCosta

Q. I have a new smartphone and have heard stories about how some apps can actually spy on you without your knowledge. What can I do to protect myself from these rogue apps?

A. The most important item is to never download an app from an unknown source. Google's Play Store, Amazon's App Store and Samsung's App Store are the only sources that are generally considered safe for downloading non-dangerous apps. Apps from these stores have undergone a minimal inspection for the presence of viruses and other malware. However, at the present time, obtaining your apps from these "Big Three" does not translate to a guarantee that these apps won't spy on you. Apps obtained from any other sources such as GetJar and F-Droid are not checked for security issues and should not be used. With 1.6 million existing apps currently available on Google Play, you should be able to find what you're looking for without going outside of the safety precautions offered there.

As to the spying issue, you will have to do some minimal homework to determine if the particular app is spying on you or has the capability to do so. All Android apps require "permissions" to perform certain actions such as reading your contact list, accessing your email or view your photo gallery. Generally these actions are consistent with the purpose of the app and should cause you no concern. For example, if you install a new email program, it will need to perform all three of the actions listed above if you wish to mail a photo to a friend. However, and this was a recent example of over-reaching on the part of an app, a flashlight app required the same access and more just to turn on your camera flash. Clearly, this app was seeking to perform actions far beyond what was actually necessary.

In the app's write-up it should state what permissions are required by it. If some of these permissions seem excessive, simply choose another app that better meets your needs. Also, make sure to read the reviews for any app which seems flaky to you.

Published: Courier 12/5/15 - Page 6B