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Android app sometimes legitimately need services from your phone. But it's always good to use some caution in giving out permissions.

I have a question about Android app permissions. Lately I've noticed a lot of apps want strange permissions. Lookout wants to be able to take photos at any time without my permission. Others want to make phone calls or read my contact list. I realize a bar code reader needs to control my camera but am I being right in being concerned with some of these permission requests?

In this excerpt from Answercast #99 I take a look at smartphone applications that ask for a lot of permissions. It would be wise to be cautious.

Android app permissions

In my opinion, yes. It really depends on which apps you're installing as to what permissions they actually need.

That's probably the most important thing you can do. Before installing an app, understand what it's supposed to do. If you've got an application that has absolutely no documented reason where it might want to use the camera, giving it permission to use the camera clearly doesn't make sense.

Malicious applications

Now it doesn't necessarily mean that the application is malicious. But that would be one sign of an application that's trying to do more than is advertised.

So, the best thing I can suggest you do is always install what I would consider to be highly rated, very reputable applications. Take a few minutes to actually understand what the application is attempting to do for you before you give it permissions to do just about everything.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Article C6365 - March 25, 2013 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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4 Comments
Mark J
March 26, 2013 12:34 AM

Lookout is an Android security program which uses GPS and IP to locate your phone, and it takes a photo of an unauthorized person attempting to use your phone. Here's what it says on their website "Get an email with the picture and location of anyone who enters an incorrect password three times into your Android lock screen."

It pays to go the the website of the app to see what it does, and why it might need permission to do such and such.

snert
March 26, 2013 12:09 PM

Yeah, don't give apps permissions without understanding what's involved. If an app asks for permission to do something outside it's intended use, ask yourself, "Why?" And understand exactly what it's asking for.

LBanko
April 4, 2013 9:46 AM

OK...we understand the point BUT then what can one do about it? I uninstalled 2 apps. because they wanted permission to use the camera without me knowing about it (Battery Reborn was one - why the hell does a battery widget need a camera?)

Now I see more and more apps. wanted camera access - latest - CHROME! The only choice I have is to NOT UPDATE it at all! I cannot pick permissions to DENY though I should have the choice.

So WHAT TO DO with the apps. you want to keep and use but do not want to allow access to mic. and camera without explaining WHY it needs it?

Thanks.

As I understand it there is nothing you can do, other than perhaps complain to the vendor. Android doesn't currently support selective permissions - it's all or nothing.
Leo
04-Apr-2013

Mark J
April 5, 2013 12:23 PM

@LBanko
A battery saver app might need to access your camera so they can adjust the screen brightness according to ambient light.

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