What you allow when you grant an app "permission"

Ask Mr. Modem

Q. I am concerned about the permission requests I get when I install apps on my Android phone. Some of them make me wonder if the apps are safe. Should I be concerned?

A. Your concern is justified. Most Android app installations require some special-access permissions, so you have to decide whether a given app is worth allowing them. Many are necessary, while the need for others is questionable. For example, there are some wallpaper apps that require access to your Contacts. Before granting permission, stop and ask yourself, “Why would a wallpaper app require access to my Contacts?” To me, that’s reason enough to move to another app.

Permissions required for the Facebook for Android app include access to your personal information, services that cost you money, your messages, your location, your Internet provider, your accounts, what you’re wearing, phone calls (phone state and identity) and others. That’s a lot of required permissions for one app.

When using the phone to download apps from the Android Market (https://play.google.com/store/apps), a list of permissions appears below the Accept & Download button. Click an item on the list for more information, including (gulp!) potential consequences.

To review an app’s permissions, in Android 4.0 tap Apps > Settings > Apps > tap to select an app and scroll down to Permissions. Even if an app isn’t overly intrusive, it is always prudent to review required permissions before installing an app.

Q. I have a fantasy football league PDF form that I have to fill in weekly. Is there an easy way to do it? Thanks, Mr. M.

A. FillAnyPDF (www.fillanypdf.com) is an online PDF form filler-outer and is an easy way to crack open a PDF file. There is a video on the site that will demonstrate and explain how it works. Good luck with your team!

Q. What do you think about letting other people take remote control of your computer to analyze and fix problems?

A. I would be inclined to use something like that right after I have a microchip implanted in my body so my cat knows where I am if I wander off. In short, I wouldn’t.

To give anyone that level of access, in my opinion, is – I believe the correct psychiatric term is “nutso.” That type of access is not limited or restricted; it is full, 100-percent, wide-open, help-yourself-to-my-data access.

Most remote repair outfits require you to install their software so they can take control. You, of course, are then relying on the integrity of people you don’t know, you have no idea where in the world they are even located – and you’re saying, “Hey, unknown people, I give you permission to poke around inside my computer and fix whatever you think needs fixing. Oh, and I’ll even pay you for that.” What a deal!

If you have engaged in that type of potentially risky behavior and had a computer problem resolved, congratulations! But while you’re basking in the glow of problem resolution, keep in mind that there are a lot of people who also wind up with compromised computers and new problems where none previously existed – sometimes days or even weeks later. Cynically minded individuals even suggest that new problems are created in order to generate additional business for the remote repair service. Eek!

My negative perspective notwithstanding, there certainly are people who sign up for these remote-access services and have a good experience. More power to them. Would I grant access to my computers in a similar manner? Not in a million-jillion years.

Mr. Modem’s DME (Don’t Miss ’Em) sites of the month

Einstein’s Big Idea

Filled with fascinating facts about the legendary E=MC2 genius and his life’s work, you will also find interesting articles about Einstein’s personal life, as well as some interactive features that make the science behind the famous equation more comprehensible to my knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing brethren and cistern. (I would have never guessed that Einstein was a huge fan of The Three Stooges. Go figure.)


Newspaper Map

This is an unusual website in that it has indexed newspapers from 199 countries. If you are interested in obtaining a local perspective on global news, use the site filters (at the top) to locate a newspaper in any location, in your language of choice and start reading.


Phone Arena

If you get woozy trying to sort through the various features in an attempt to figure out which mobile phone is best for you, at the Phone Arena you will find phone reviews by actual users who aren’t trying to sell you anything. You can also review side-by-side comparisons, editor picks and get the latest news about phones, including when the next version of your phone will be released, thus rendering your new phone obsolete. (Hint: Obsolescence generally occurs within 30 minutes of purchase.)


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