How can you know if you can trust an app?

Trust is a funny thing. When you have it, you have it. But once it’s lost, it’s very hard to get back. In the early days of smartphones, we all thought of them as very secure. Back then, PC viruses were rampant. Malware was a constant threat, even more so than it is today. But we all thought phones were different. They were, at first; like all new technology, phones started out with great promise and then, eventually things got worse.

Why should you worry about bad phone apps?

Simple answer: your entire life is in your phone. Your credit card numbers, your identification, the connection to your car are all on your phone. All your contacts and your entire browsing history are there too. With the information on your phone, someone could very easily muck around with your life in some very unpleasant ways.

You have a right to feel like your phone is safe. And, it should be. Apps should help you, not steal your information. You hear a lot about bad apps and it’s enough to make people put the phone down and go back to a filofax. But, no one really wants to do that. Here are some ways you can feel a little more comfortable with the apps you install.

Use an iPhone (for now.)

We used to say that iPhones were almost free of malware while Androids had nothing but malware. That’s not really true anymore but it is definitely true that Apple’s hardware and software have privacy built-in.

Apple only allows one app store, and it’s their own App Store. This allows them to approve or disapprove apps based on their own criteria. This has gotten them into trouble recently, and an ongoing lawsuit threatens to remove Apple’s monopoly on its app approval process. If that happens, you won’t be able to trust iPhones any more than any other phone.

Use only the Google Play Store

If you have an Android — and most of you do — you have a choice of app stores. You can even load apps directly onto the phone yourself. This opens up a lot of possibilities for sure, but it also means security problems. A lot of the biggest malware problems have come from non-Google app stores.

Google doesn’t have the same strict approval process as Apple does but they do screen the apps they post so you can feel pretty safe installing them. If you want to install an app, you might want to Google it first and see if it is available on Apple’s app store too. If it is, you can feel just a little safer.

Stick to paid apps

This is taking things a little far, but there’s hardly any malware on paid apps. After all, the app maker wants the app to be as easy to get as possible. So, if you stick only to paid apps, you should be fairly free of problem apps. Of course you’ll miss out on a lot of great stuff this way and you’ll also end up paying a lot.

The best solution: use your noggin

The best thing to do is think before you install. That’s no fun, but it will really help. Read the reviews of an app and don’t install it if they seem fishy. Don’t search out apps that give you things for free when other apps charge for stuff. Both iOS and Android give you reports on the kind of access each app takes. Does a game really need access to your contacts? Does a photo app really need to read your system files? If it seems a little fishy, don’t install it. Between that and only using trusted app stores, you can generally do pretty well.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.