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Mobile Engagement

Six in ten mobile users have made the decision not to download an app when they realised how much personal information it wanted to collect, according to a report.

Mobile users’ behaviour expresses public sentiment towards giving data to private apps, as signalled by 60 per cent avoiding downloading apps which demanded a multitude of permissions.

An additional 43 per cent have uninstalled an app after downloading it for the same reasons.

90 per cent of users said that that knowing how their personal data will be used is “very” or “somewhat” important when choosing whether or not to install an app.

Apps can ask users for 235 different types of phone permissions, according to the Pew Research Center, although researchers were quick to explain why apps made so many demands.

“It is a simple fact that permissions are required for even the most basic apps to function,” wrote Kenneth Olmstead and Michelle Atkinson in the report.

“Clearly users are concerned about the information their apps require, but less is known about what is happening on the other side of the transaction.

“Complicating the matter even further for users, app developers cannot edit the description of each permission and therefore cannot include information about why each permission is needed.”

70 per cent of permissions requested permit apps to access hardware functions on a device, such as its cameras or vibration feature.

Only 30 per cent of permissions were related to allowing apps to access user information.

The research found that the single highest number of permissions required by any app was 127, but the average app required only five permissions.

Among the most-requested app permissions were full network access, permission to view network connections available to the user, modify or delete the contents of a device’s USB storage, stop the phone from going to sleep and access both precise and approximate user locations.

Apps classified as ‘business’ or ‘communications’ required the highest number of permissions, asking for eight or nine permissions respectively on average.

But the report warned that requesting a minimal number of permissions was not an accurate way to gage how much user information apps could access.

“An app with a single permission could potentially access a wealth of user information, while an app with multiple permissions might be able to interact with the phone’s hardware components but remain walled off from any personal data about the user,” it said.

Among the report’s other findings, which are available in full from the Pew Research Centre website, nearly 100,000 apps do not ask for any permissions at all.

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