Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Understanding App Permissions

When you head over to the Amazon Appstore and find an app you're interested in, what are some of the things you notice? There's the image, the price, the star rating, and you might scroll down and take a look at the reviews, making sure that the app works for the Fire and everything. But here's one thing that might be worth looking into as well: the App Permissions.

You might not have even noticed them as you scroll down from the top, but under the heading Technical Details you'll find a section with a list of Application Permissions. This will tell you what the app can do with your device once you install it. Most of these are harmless. and make perfect sense. Wi-Fi Analyzer is allowed to access information about your WiFi network and make changes. Badass Battery Monitor can collect information about battery statistics. Those permissions reflect the inherent purpose of those apps, and you want to allow them to do what they do. There are permissions for pretty much every aspect of your device.

But sometimes you'll come across an app that will have a permission that'll make you scratch your head. The app will have one purpose, and it'll want access to something that seems completely unrelated. We'll look at a few situations like this, and you can decide for yourself whether this is something you want on your Fire.
Just as an example, we'll look at a game called Chickens Quest - Help the Birds Get Home!

When it comes to games, there are quite a few that have no permissions whatsoever, but it's not uncommon for them to have a few. Taking a look at the permission for Chickens Quest, you might be surprised to see that it wants to access your "fine location" through GPS (which the Fire doesn't have). Why the heck does a game called Chickens Quest - Help the Birds Get Home need to know exactly where you are?? Are the chickens coming straight to your home?? It's kind of out of the ordinary, but even Cut the Rope wants to know your "coarse location" through WiFi networks and such. In the end, you may feel like it's strange but harmless.

But there are actually somewhat more invasive permissions that can affect your device, and for that you should take a look at an app called Bird Land - Pet Game.

Take a look at these permissions. Which one of these seems invasive to you? If you picked the last one that keeps your "processor from sleeping or screen from dimming," you're on the same page we are. This is one of those care for the animals apps, and for it to work it needs to run all the time. That means even if the screen looks like it's off your Fire really won't be in sleep mode, and you'll be draining as much battery as if it were running at full steam. And this is one of the most-popular free apps in the Appstore. And it has over 1,000 4-star or up reviews! That means there are literally tens of thousands of insomniac Kindle Fires out there because of this app. How many of them do you think are complaining about their Fire's battery life?

An important thing to note is that a properly functioning app will only prevent your app from sleeping while it's running, and as we saw in the discussions there are a lot of apps that have this WakeLocks feature. If you're worried that your battery isn't lasting as long as it should, this might be an explanation, and you can use Badass Battery Monitor to see what's draining your battery life.

In the end, these are just a couple of examples to make you more aware of what apps can do. Most of the time there isn't going to be anything to worry about, and if there are most of the time there'll be people writing reviews warning you. But it is best to give it a quick glance to make sure you're not getting any unexpected surprises. Do you know of any other apps with strange or invasive permissions?

Stay tuned for more free and cheap apps this afternoon!

3 comments:

  1. I was completely oblivious of this. And guess what? I have the Bird Land app on my Fire--it's my daughter's favorite! Thanks so much for making us aware of permissions issues. :-)

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  2. No problem, Shannon. Glad we could help inform you. Really, if you or your daughter like the game you can keep it as long as you realize its going to take a little more electricity. Just a tradeoff depending on if it's worth it to you. :)

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  3. How can I view permissions on my kindle to see which apps are bad?

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