Experts: How Smart-Phone Apps Collect Your Personal Information

  (CBS) — For many of us, smartphones are keys to our lives, with everything from photos and videos to passwords and banking information.

But could you be handing all that private information over to strangers without even knowing it?

CBS 2’s Mai Martinez has an eye-opening look at the dangers lurking in apps.

Smartphone user Saad Mughal has about 20 apps on his phone. Elan Modilevsky has apps for social networking, to get around and for entertainment.

Nielsen says the average smartphone user has more than 26 apps, and security experts say some of those apps could put your personal security at risk, especially those available for Android phones via Google Play.

“The Play Store is like the wild, wild west. There’s really no verification process. Anybody can put an app on there,” says Josh  Fazio, a forensic investigator for Chicago security firm 4Discovery.

Michele Stuart of Arizona-based JAG Investigations agrees.

“You’ll have pirated versions of applications, and normally those are where you’re going to start getting the malware issues,” Stuart says.

Fazio says criminals are after information. And surprisingly, many of us give that information away without even knowing it.

How? By agreeing to an app’s “terms of use” and installing it, consumers are consenting to more than they may think, he says.

“It will tell you, ‘Hey, I’m accessing your photos, your SMS, your call logs,’” Fazio says.

Smartphone user Mia Rizzo says she never reads the terms of service and just agrees to whatever it says.

Even those who do know aren’t always deterred.

“You kind of want to have the app, so I download it, anyway,” Smartphone user Brianna Jordan says.

App creators capitalize on that.  Perhaps the best example is “The Brightest Flashlight Free” app that was downloaded tens of millions of times.

“Besides having a flashlight work is you’ve actually let this become spyware on your phone,” Stuart says.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the app transmitted users’ precise location to third parties, including advertisers. The company settled with the FTC.

The popular Snapchat app also recently settled with the FTC for deceptive practices.

“It will take your name, your username, your passwords, your email address. Every single person in your contact list, in your address book, has now been uploaded to a private server maintained by Snapchat,” Stuart says.

As alarming as that sounds, experts say most apps, including Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter and Instagram, ask for similar access to just about everything on your phone. That can include  the microphone,  camera,  network or external storage.

Experts also say you shouldn’t have your phones set for automatic updates and never hit “update all” until you’ve read what’s changed in each and every app.

“If there’s something that concerns you, then don’t do it,” Stuart says.

Experts say the iPhone app store is more secure because Apple vets its apps, but nothing is 100 percent safe. Google did not respond to inquiries about the Play app store.

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