iOS, Android users won't tolerate 'creepy' app behaviour

While the debate continues on whether some of the apps allowed on the App Store and Google Play are malicious, Sophos claims that users are going to make up their minds for businesses by voting with their downloads.
Written by Michael Lee, Contributor

Users won't tolerate mobile apps that engage in the grey area of collecting too much of their customers' information or attempt to monetise too aggressively, according to Sophos Labs, and will end up voting with their downloads.

Sophos Labs manager Sean McDonald said that one of the most concerning issues around application development is that it isn't even clear what applications could be considered malicious.

He argued that some applications need to collect certain data to do their jobs, but in many cases, what is considered malicious or a breach of privacy is highly subjective.

"At what point do you get to where you're harvesting too much information? Is it OK to harvest a unique identifier so that the application and the service knows who it's communicating with? But if you start collecting information about who the mobile carrier is, is that taking it too far?"

Part of the blame comes back to the developer community, which McDonald indicated possibly hasn't matured enough to consider issues of privacy and data protection, even though they might have the best intentions for their customers.

"A lot of the people who are writing applications are probably good guys and girls ... but issues of privacy might not be at the forefront of their mind."

Sophos Labs vice president Simon Reed said that businesses should see this as a warning to carefully consider aspects of their applications other than the financial benefits.

"People who are developing apps need to get the balance right between developing a trust relationship with the person that is using the application and monetising that application," Reed said.

McDonald further warned that if businesses crossed the line and violated their customers' trust, it could be hard to ever gain it back again.

"Users will start to go, 'No, no, I'm not going to use these applications that continually have bad stuff said about them because they are harvesting so much data or not protecting it properly', while the people that offer a similar service, even within that app space, who do the right thing, will build a better brand," McDonald said.

"You've voting with the apps you download."

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