3 Surprising Risks to Mobile Shopping Apps

by Kevin on October 13, 2015

Girl with Shopping Bags

Mobile devices have made it easier to do just about anything from anywhere you happen to be. From transferring money between bank accounts to checking in with your Great Aunt Sally on social media to scoring a great deal on ground beef at the local grocery store, mobile applications have transformed our lives. However, they have also made us more vulnerable than ever before, thanks to the massive amounts of personal data being shared over unsecured networks and via permissions granted to those applications.

Compounding the problem is the fact that most people aren’t even aware that they are putting their identities and their finances at risk. They don’t realize that their mobile devices, or more specifically the things they do on their devices, create openings that all but hand criminals their personal information. Among the most potentially dangerous activities? Shopping, even when done on official shopping applications. While it’s possible to conduct a perfectly safe transaction via mobile without incident, you need to be aware of several risks before you click “buy” – or even download a shopping application.

1. Shopping on Unsecured Wi-Fi Networks

Free Wi-Fi is a popular offering at many major retailers, especially restaurants and shopping malls. The issue, though, is that most free Wi-Fi isn’t secure. Anyone with a little technical knowledge can capture any data shared on the network, including your financial information. Another common tactic for hackers is to create a spoof network with a name similar to that of the legitimate Wi-Fi, designed to trick users into logging on so the hackers can steal the information that is shared.

Because the risk of your information being stolen over unsecured networks is so high, never send personal information (like bank accounts, social media log-ins, etc.) via public Wi-Fi. If you have to check your bank balance or login to an account, do so only when you’re on a private network that requires a log in, and will encrypt your data. Free Wi-Fi is fine for searching for things like the showtime for a movie, an address, or some coupons, but don’t shop or do anything that could expose your financial information, like shopping online for a payday loan.

2. Application Permission Overreach

When you download a new application, do you actually read the agreement outlining the permissions you’re granting? If not, you should be. You might be surprised what you are agreeing to when you download an app for a discount on a cup of coffee or easy shopping list management. Many apps request permission to access contact lists, use the camera, monitor your location, send or edit text messages, or even use features like the flashlight.

Hand and Phone at Supermarket

In some cases, these permissions serve a legitimate purpose; for example, location services help an app find the nearest store or location specific offers. However, because of the way privacy policies are worded, it’s not always easy to determine why the app needs certain permissions, or to misinterpret the meanings. Another issue is the way that different platforms collect permissions.

When you download apps for an Android device, you must agree to all of the permissions upfront, or not download the app. Apple devices collect permissions as they are needed; in other words, you will not have to grant the app permission to use your phone’s camera until it’s necessary for the app to function. Still, there is concern about the fact that app developers are collecting all of this information from mobile devices, and the potential for data breaches that reveal reams of information about individuals.

Does this mean you should get rid of all of your apps? Not at all. But before you download, understand what you are potentially sharing with the developers, and when possible, customize your permissions to prevent inadvertent exposure of sensitive information. Delete apps that you no longer use, and always confirm that you’re downloading legitimate applications.

3. Phishing Scams

Downloading only legitimate apps from secure sources is vital because fake apps can wreak havoc on your privacy. One common tactic for hackers is to send emails or text messages pretending to be developers and asking you to confirm information via a link or in a text, or to download a “new” or “updated” version. Legitimate companies will never ask for information via email or text, and apps that need updating will do so automatically according to your operating system’s protocols so do not respond to such requests.

Mobile shopping can be perfectly safe, but it can also be dangerous to share personal information via shopping apps. Understand the risks, and only enter your payment information when you are certain that it is safe to do so. The time you save by shopping on your phone isn’t worth what you will spend to clean up the mess of a stolen identity.

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