The Cost of Free

07 Nov 2013
by James Westhafer
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The Cost of Free

Why free apps can cost users in the long-run

Everyone loves a free app. A $0.99 or $1.99 app might induce a half-hearted internal cost-benefit analysis, but free apps can be downloaded, installed and trialed at no cost. While free apps provide great benefit to most consumers, they are also subject to invasive permissions, unexpected SMS messaging charges and malware from illegitimate developers looking to scam unsuspecting users. A recent McAfee® report on mobile security consumer trends details just this problem.

Many mobile app permissions endanger users’ privacy, siphoning info on GPS location and account and activity information. Surprisingly, some fraudulent apps are intelligent enough to enable the developer to remotely control the device as a bot client. Malware like this is most often seen in game apps, followed by “personalization” and music apps. So is it safe to judge an app’s legitimacy based on marketplace ratings? Not exactly. Some apps trick users into clicking a button to allegedly remove advertisements, when in reality this is submitting a five-star user review to Google Play.

Rooting, or breaking the factory-installed controls and installing aftermarket software, makes it even easier for criminals to abuse a device. While users are usually seeking more freedom when rooting their phones, they may be handing over control to fraudulent developers intent on scamming.

It is important for consumers and smart-phone users to educate themselves on the risks and aggressive permissions associated with apps in the marketplace. Recognizable logos and popular brand names can sometimes dupe consumers into thinking an app is authentic when it really isn’t. It can be very easy to give up money, control and private information when downloading an app, but it can be even harder to get it back once it has been stolen by a criminal developer.

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