Jake Charman

Resident Geek of Nitrous Junkie Racing



Yes, apps have access to your phone…

Thu 14 Aug 2014


I am thoroughly fed up of reading people moaning about how apps can access data and hardware on your device.

The most recent post I have seen is about Facebook Messenger. It complains that the app has access to the contacts stored in the phone and can activate the camera without the user’s permission. These posts, in my mind illustrate the lack of knowledge people have and yet continue to scaremonger on the internet. I’m not saying I know everything. I’m 15 and still have a lot to learn but I am careful to make sure I know what I’m on about before I spew in onto the internet. And I know for a fact that both Android and iOS show what access an app has to your device so you should already know what the app is going to be able to do. Plus, imagine Facebook Messenger without these abilities. It would be a complete pain to use. It would have to ask permission every time you take a picture and your contacts wouldn’t sync without you asking.

Rant over… Partly.

This, as per usual,  got me thinking. If apps couldn’t ask for permission to do certain things in advance and then assume that it has permission for it’s lifetime then smartphones would be nowhere near as easy or as nice to use as they are today. Imagine Windows if it couldn’t access any hardware without the user’s permission. I doubt, in it’s current configuration at least, it would even boot. Of course half the problem here is Windows’ constant need to BSOD when it decides that hardware necessary to boot is missing despite the fact that said device is sometimes a display driver that purely allows higher resolutions than 800px X 600px. I like Windows but it really does love to throw temper tantrums over nothing, This laptop is running Ubuntu (alongside Vista) and still somehow boots despite the fact that in boot time the OS (or possibly grub) can’t even detect there is a hard disk installed.

Off topic bit over… Partly.

So, back on topic. If a desktop OS had to ask permission to use hardware you would have to give permission (and in the case of Windows likely a password) to save a file, play sound, access a webcam and many other everyday functions. Everything would be horrible to use. I’m pretty sure people are only getting worried about mobile phone apps is because of the personal information like phone numbers and bank details that is stored on them. This is partly why I prefer iOS to Android as Apple will not allow an app onto the App Store if they believe something dodgy is going on wheras in Android there is virtually no vetting process for new apps or developers and the most you will get in the list of permissions  is something like these “this may cost you money” warnings.

And even these are built into Android and aren’t checked at all by Google. Another reason is iOS gives you the opportunity to deny some permissions whereas in Android you agree to the lot or don’t download.
An article listing more apps that use rather alarming sounding permissions and explains how and why some of them are used can be found here:
http://bit.ly/FBMessengerConcerns