There are a lot of apps you can download on Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store. That’s obvious. What’s not so obvious is that even though both companies do a pretty good job of (mostly) catching bullshit apps, there are still plenty that sneak through because they just toe the line between scammy and barely helpful.
Each company’s app reviewing teams are good, but some app developers know the rules well enough to exploit unsuspecting users as much as they can. And that brings us to this week’s Tech 911 question, sent in by Lifehacker reader Jess. She writes:
A few months ago, I gave one of my pre-teen nieces my iPhone 5S when I upgraded. For the most part I don’t worry about what kind of apps she’s downloading because she’s pretty tame in that area. Which brings me to my question.
Addendum: the age rating in the App Store says 4+ but the terms and conditions explicitly say none under the age of 18 without express consent of an adult. That adds to my suspicions about this app having nefarious intentions. Kids are less likely to read or notice and therefore give up more info willingly.
So, here’s the good news. I can’t find “Cleanly,” or at least, the app you describe with that name, anywhere on Apple’s App Store. It’s possible the developer pulled the app or that even Apple itself stepped in and went, “You’re a scam, go away.” To give you a quick and easy answer, I think it’s safe to uninstall this app from your niece’s phone. I doubt she’ll miss it.
Generally speaking, your intuition is correct. While I haven’t used the app myself, and I don’t want to call something a scam without actually having seen it, the general description you provide does raise my eyebrow. I don’t think anyone needs an app to root through their photos to clean out screenshots—especially since that’s easy enough to do via the “screenshots” media type in Photos. I would be nervous about assigning over permissions to my photos to an app like that (and whatever else the app wants to be able to do as a condition of its use).
The App Store age rating really relates to the content within the app, rather than the app’s intended purpose. For example, as part of the app submission process, a developer will have to go through a little questionnaire that looks like this:
Where does this leave things? Unfortunately, in the hands of the downloader more than anything else. The best course of action you can take, aside from running through your niece’s phone once a month to check for crappy apps, is to talk to her. I’d give her a few suggestions to keep in the back of her mind when she goes to download future apps:
Think about the app’s purpose. Do you really need it on your phone? Is it doing something that you could probably do yourself, like deleting or organising data?
Look at the app’s product page. Seeing lots of misspellings? Grammar that doesn’t make sense? Something off-putting about the screenshots? Maybe it’s worth ignoring the app.
Don’t take an app’s promises at face value. It never hurts to run a quick web search to see if anyone else has reviewed, talked about, or used an app you’re considering downloading. Odds are good that the odd app you found is more likely to be unwanted than a diamond in the rough.
Read App Store reviews. Does an app have any? If not, get nervous. Does an app have a decent number of five-star reviews, and only five-star reviews, that are all phrased really strangely? Avoid. Let others help you figure out whether an app is legit or not—or trying to entice you into downloading it with fake reviews—before you download it.
Consider an app’s permissions. If it wants to access your camera and microphone, but it’s supposed to be helping you clear out your contact list, that should feel like a very strange request that warrants a little extra research.
Don’t download apps that don’t come recommended. When in doubt, this is a great way to avoid scammy apps: Don’t download things that haven’t already been vetted by other, more professional entities: online reviewers, your favourite tech websites, Apple itself, et cetera. Just because your friend thinks some weird app that puts dumb stuff on your face is worth a download doesn’t mean that you should run to the App Store and grab it immediately. A little due diligence can save you a lot of future stress—and help keep your data private and secure.
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