Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you

Data Privacy Day shines a light on phone app risks

Your phone stores a wealth of information, particularly given how we’re all online. So how do you go protecting it?

We all rely on something that stores much of our data in growing amounts, and depending on often you jump online with it, you mightn’t be aware of quite the risk it poses, and some of the things you can do to curtail those risks.

We’re talking about your phone mostly, but also anything you use to jump online and connect with individuals, which is also going to include your computer. Both gadgets are things people rely on regularly, though given how we all use phones for pretty much every purpose, very likely to be your phone as the main thing.

Smartphones are an extraordinary convergence device, acting as a gateway for the internet that you can keep in your pocket. They include a high-speed connection over either WiFi or cellular (4G/5G), so you can share things and talk to others using online methods quickly and easily. Phones include cameras to let you capture the world over both imagery and video, and share those details with friends and family. There’s obviously a microphone so you can talk to people over voice, and a camera up front so you can keep doing that over video chat.

In essence, a smartphone is an excellent way to connect online, and it’s something we all do.

But they can also pose a risk, particularly if we don’t check what the apps we’re using are doing. Some apps leave a trail of information behind, sharing it with online sources for use in advertising, while others might be more nefarious, leaking it to others for some less than legitimate reasons.

It’s a problem that can affect anyone with a phone, and anyone without who happens to use the internet, which is all of us. We all have data in some form of another, be it information about ourselves or the files we share, and keeping that information private makes data privacy a big deal.

Fortunately, it’s something we’re all becoming more aware of.

“In a recent survey conducted by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), 70% of respondents consider the protection of their personal information to be a major concern in their lives,” said Chris Althaus, CEO of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA).

“The survey also revealed that data privacy is now the number one consideration for Australians when choosing a digital service, such as social media and online platforms,” he said.

“It’s clear from this research that many Australians have concerns around data privacy, and it remains an absolute high priority for the telecommunications industry.”

It’s a concern that can affect anyone, and no one particular age group is worse than others, with Althaus noting that “all age groups are at risk”, as part of the problem comes down to how data is handled and secured.

On phones, for instance, apps can be one of the obvious ways that data is kept secure, making it vital that the apps you install come from proper sources, and that their requirements for data are checked and handled by you.

In recent versions of both iOS 14 (iPhone) and Android 11, the operating systems each ask for permission when an app requires the use of something, while Apple’s App Store includes privacy notes at the bottom of its page on the App Store. They’re things to be aware of so you know just what the app wants to do, and can help you work out whether you’ll let the app do what it wants and whether you’ll take the time to prevent it.

App Store privacy information example
App Store privacy information example

“All Australians should consider what personal information they share and take precautions to ensure that they are protected against any harmful practice,” said Althaus.

“It’s also important for parents to educate their children on how to keep their data secure and avoid any data privacy issues to break down the barrier,” he said. “Similarly, you should take the time to assist older family members to make ensure they understand data privacy, especially around not revealing any personal information to potential scam calls and texts.”

Scam messages are one way that could see serious damage to the privacy of your data simply by not paying attention. As scammers become even more creative, evident from the attempts to create legitimate-looking SMS purportedly coming from places like JB HiFi and the Australian government, it becomes all the more important to be aware of what the telltale signs of a scam are, and to not click something you’re not sure about.

It’s all too easy to fall for a scam, even if you consider yourself a professional — it takes one click or one touch — and if you find yourself at a convincing phishing site, you may end up losing details to scammers and the dark web faster than you can say “it’ll never happen to me”.

It’s why being aware of scams is an important factor to securing your data long term, but it’s not the only thing.

AMTA told Pickr that other factors can be just as important, such as keeping your phone’s software up to date, as well as the apps installed, and making sure the software only comes from reputable sources. Keeping your devices locked down with a strong password that can’t be guessed is also important, with the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association CEO noting that it’s a combination of everything that can effectively help your data privacy and security most of all.

“AMTA believes that the most effective way for consumers to keep their data secure on their mobile devices is by using a combination of precautionary measures, like always creating strong passwords without including any personal information, keeping software updated, removing unused apps, and locking mobile devices when not in use,” he said.

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