Mobile applications: The necessary evil?

7 10 2011

Most of us have mobile applications installed on our cell phones. These may be in the form of Facebook, Whatsapp, Skype, twitter and plenty more. Why do we have them? Personally, I have them because they help me access many applications that I would have accessed on my computer while on the road and at any time.

A survey carried out by the mobile research team at the University of Nebraska Lincoln revealed that people use mobile applications because of the associated benefits, convenience and efficiency [1].Simply said, I don’t want to wait till I get to my home to check my Facebook or even check my bank account. In my opinion there is surely no better way to pass time when, say, waiting for the bus or on the bus. This same survey however revealed that people are concerned with the security aspects that are part and parcel with mobile applications [1].

Looking at the business side of it, let us consider the benefits of these mobile applications to the working class and the businesses themselves. The HP Enterprise services lists some benefits of their applications as being able to improve employee connectivity and productivity, reducing costs, eliminating communication delays and plenty more [2].The most convenient way to get in touch with employees is on their mobile devices, so if they have a “work-enabled” application installed on their mobile devices that enables employers to ensure that the communication channels are continuously open thus improving productivity.

Mobile applications however also have their associated problems. For one, they are limited by the limitations of the mobile applications on which they run. Secondly the security and privacy issues when it comes to mobile applications are often dicey.

Others may think: “Well since I am using the website anyway what difference does it make whether or not it’s on my phone browser or using this mobile application?”When using my personal computer, and I have to enter any private data, I always ensure that I access sites using the HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure line) even when doing something as seemingly simply as Facebook. My question is, for the mobile based web applications, do they all run on a secure line? Where are our passwords and other sensitive data stored? These applications are often made by vendors and then sold to the respective companies. Is there a guarantee that the information is safe and cannot be retrieved?

In the UK recently, it was discovered on an android police blog that a user’s GPS location and call logs could be accessed by net enabled applications. Having undergone extensive investigation HTC admitted to the flaw that could be exploited by a malicious third party application [3].This goes to show that mobile applications definitely have flaws that could be detrimental to our privacy and security.

“A recent survey of 100 apps available from the iTunes App Store and the Android Market concluded that 39 left sensitive information readily recoverable from smart phones.  In other words, those apps retained sensitive data in plain text on the device [4].”

“A second recent survey, conducted by the Future of Privacy Forum, found that 22 of the 30 most popular mobile apps did not contain a privacy policy either on the downloaded app or at the website of the application developer [4].”

Mobile Application developers are not excluded from following the law. As such they need to ensure that consumer data is protected [4].This should be an awakening for some of us who didn’t know the dangers lurking behind some applications we install on our mobile devices.

________________

[1]Siau,K.,Nah, F. & Sheng, H.2003. Value of Mobile applications to end users. ERCIM  News, No.54. www.ercim.eu/publication/Ercim_News/enw54/siau.html

[2]Mobile applications services.2011.HP Enterprise services. http://h10134.www1.hp.com/services/mobileapps/

[3]HTC to release urgent privacy fix for smart phones.2011.BBC News, Technology. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-15171106

[4]Bill Baker.2011.Mobile Apps invite privacy problems. Mobile developer Magazine.http://www.mobiledevmag.com/2011/09/mobile-apps-invite-privacy-problems/

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