Australians will sacrifice privacy for a good app and worry too little about mobile viruses

Australians are happy to compromise their privacy to get new mobile apps, are far less concerned about mobile viruses than residents of other countries, and think they know more about what personal information an app is sharing than they actually do, according to a new study of mobile users' app privacy perceptions.

Symantec's Norton Mobile Apps Survey Report involved a survey of 6291 smartphone users in 9 countries, with 695 Australians involved and 66 percent of those saying they are regular users of mobile apps.

That percentage put Australians' app usage level with the penetration in the UK, US and Canada – but follow-up questions suggested Australians are far less concerned with the security of those apps than their overseas counterparts.

While just 37 percent of worldwide respondents did not worry “at all” about getting a virus on their smartphone, that figure was 53 percent for Australians – suggesting a wide gulf in awareness and education of consumers about apps' use of personally identifiable information (PII) in its many forms.

“In today’s connected world, mobile devices are more than mini computers in our pockets – they are digital warehouses storing our most personal moments and information, such as photos and videos, conversations with friends and family, health and fitness information, financial data and more,” said Mark Gorrie, Pacific region head of Norton with Symantec, in a statement.

“However most consumers unknowingly – sometimes even willingly – put personal information which resides on their mobile phones at risk, compromising their privacy.”

Australians were more concerned than overseas peers – 74 percent compared with 70 percent – about the security of their financial information. However, one third of surveyed Australians said they would happily give up their location in order to get a free app.

Symantec scans of a range of Android apps found that PII was “being regularly accessed by apps that may not have reason to do so” – including nearly a third of apps accessing information on the SIM card including address book information, mobile PIN numbers and call histories.

Some 13 percent of the apps – equal to around 2 million different apps – transmitted the user's phone number to a destination off the device.

Australians were also more ignorant of the types of permissions Android apps request, with 31 percent of respondents (compared to 24 percent globally) admitting that they “don't really know what they agree to when downloading an app”.

Although those aged 18 to 34 believe they know what information they're agreeing to provide to an app, tests of their actual knowledge show they really know just as little about their apps as 55-plus respondents that readily admit they don't know how an app can affect their phone.

Interestingly, of the nearly half of respondents most concerned about getting a virus on their smartphone, a higher percentage were willing to allow apps to control data usage and access contacts, fitness information and photos – more so than among the users that aren't concerned about viruses.

“Those that worry about getting a smartphone virus think they understand app permissions but in reality, these people are nearly as uninformed as those that do not worry,” the study's authors warned.

The findings come as Google pulled three apps from its Google Play store after they were found to be peppering millions of users' devices with unwanted adware.

One of the apps, card game Durak, had as many as 10 million installations before it was pulled. Google cited violations of the developers' guidelines, which all developers must follow, and acted to remove the apps after their presence was ported to Google by security vendor Avast.

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

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