Experts say FaceApp isn’t doing anything unusual by harvesting your personal data and there’s probably a bunch apps on your phone doing the same thing!
Getting a task done by installing an app on your smartphone can seem the most logical step in the world – right up until a badly-coded, awkwardly-distributed app causes the Iowa Democratic caucus to meltdown.
The fact that the Iowa caucuses’ underlying work of transmitting numbers to a site could have been done by a mobile web site should remind everybody to think anew about the wisdom of throwing a mobile app at every problem.
For a user, an app brings extra functions as well as extra worries over privacy and distractions. For a developer, the app offers a better shot of becoming part of a user’s daily habits than hoping that customers will bookmark their site or add it as a home-screen shortcut.
“There is often little reason to install an app.”
Tristan Louis, president and CEO of Casebook PBC
But the app can also run afoul of review requirements at app stores, especially Apple’s, that mobile sites bypass entirely.
In other words, the developer often needs the app more than you do.
“To most users, the only way they’ll install an app is from the app store,” wrote Mark Sussman and Daniel Schep, co-founders of OurStreets, in an email. That Washington, D.C., firm’s app lets pedestrians and cyclists report bad behavior; until January, it existed as a web app called How’s My Driving.
The two noted that Google makes it much easier to develop a richly functional mobile site.
“If we were developing only for Android, there would have been little reason to convert over to a native app,” they said. But Apple blocks sites from providing features they’d need: “push notifications, reading EXIF data from photos (i.e. reading location from a photo), and using the camera directly.”
On both platforms, mobile apps can also offer more offline functions.
But having their code reside on the phone means they can seek more data from the rest of the phone. They may ask for not just your location – something Android and iOS now make easier to limit or veto – but your contacts, calendar, and the phone’s microphone and camera.
(USA TODAY’s apps are not immune to that; for example, its Android app requests access to your device’s location, camera, contacts and phone status, among others.)
But limited site support in iOS can leave users with little choice. If you value Facebook notifying you of friends’ comments or birthday greetings but otherwise want to go on a Facebook diet, using Facebook’s mobile site may not be much of an option on an iPhone.
Apple and Google both let you save site bookmarks as home-screen icons; in Safari for iOS or Chrome for Android, tap the menu button and select “Add to Home Screen” or “Add to Home screen.”
One veteran of multiple tech startups advised going easy on mobile apps.
“A lot of apps essentially provide functionality similar to what a web site offers,” emailed Tristan Louis, president and CEO of Casebook PBC, a software-development firm that provides tools for government human-services agencies. “Unless you are looking to use your device power for things like offline access or connecting to its camera or microphone, there is often little reason to install an app.”
Sussman and Schep advised avoiding apps that are particularly “invasive” or demanding of a phone’s storage or memory.
“For example, we don’t have the Facebook app on our phones,” they said. “Also some apps are just much buggier than their website counterparts.”
Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, e-mail Rob at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.
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