Free apps collect your personal data

If I glanced through your smartphone or tablet, I'd bet most of the apps you installed are free. We all love free apps. In fact, I’ve put together lists of my 10 Best Free Apps for Android and 10 Best Free Apps for Apple.

But free apps often have a privacy cost. When you install an app, you probably never read its terms and conditions. You merely click "Agree." In the terms and conditions, the app developer typically reveals what data you are voluntarily handing over, such as your online activities, location, contact list, text messages and more. (By the way, none of the apps on my 10 Best lists do this.)

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University recently analyzed the Google Play store's top 100 apps operations, terms and conditions. They found these 10 requested the most access to your smartphone or tablet's hardware:

  • Backgrounds HD Wallpaper
  • Brightest Flashlight
  • Google Maps
  • Horoscope
  • Mouse Trap
  • Pandora
  • Shazam
  • Talking Tom Virtual Pet

It makes sense that Google Maps needs your location and song-identifying Shazam needs access to your microphone, but why does a virtual pet, dictionary or wallpaper app need anything like that? Both iOS and Android have built-in flashlights, so you don't even need an app.

While the researchers looked at Android apps, almost all of them have iOS versions. iOS lets you set permissions on a case-by-case basis. Go to Settings>>Privacy and choose the permission, such as camera or GPS. Slide the slider to "Off" to deny a permission.

Unlike iOS, Android doesn't have per-app permission controls. It was a hidden feature in Android 4.4.2, but Google removed it. No one knows when or if it will be back.

Before you install any Android app, check the app's page in the Google Play store. Google requires that developers reveal permissions that the app requires.

On an app page, scroll down to the "Additional Information" section and under "Permissions" click "View details." Google users can turn off GPS and location services. Go to Settings>>Personal>>Location Services and uncheck any checked boxes.

As for apps that collect your contact data, make sure the app needs it for a legitimate reason. For example, communication apps Skype or Google Voice require it.

Many people were concerned because Facebook's Messenger app wanted access to features such as the camera, audio recording, phone number calling and more. Facebook detailed a list of reasons why each was required for Messenger to work correctly. Click here to learn what you disclose using the Facebook Messenger app.

Here are some of my favorite apps that have reasonable permissions or are upfront about why they need them.

If you're wondering about other apps, visit PrivacyGrade, where researchers from Carnegie Mellon examine what permissions an app should need and what it actually requires, and then they assign it a grade.

Every week, I publish a free newsletter that covers apps, privacy, security and more for smartphones and tablets. Android users can sign up here. For the Apple version, click here. It's an easy way to stay up-to-date.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at