In the wake of the Pokémon Go hype, some users were concerned that downloading the app would allow its creators to read all of your emails.
John McAfee, creator of McAfee security software and, pending regulatory approval, the CEO of MGT Capital Investments, thinks that Pokémon Go is the least of your worries.
“Wake up. Over 50 million users have granted apps permission to make phone calls from your phone, without your approval or knowledge, for which you may have to pay,” McAfee told Business Insider.
“To my knowledge, there is not a single major smartphone supplier in the world that does not pre-load malware on their phones.”
When downloading an app from the iOS or Android app stores, users allow access to certain features of their phone, like the camera or contact list.
Pokémon Go was requesting access to users’ Google accounts, which some feared would allow Niantic, the app developer, to read users’ emails.
McAfee calls apps that ask for permissions they don’t need malware because they can gather data without the user knowing.
“Malware is anything that spies on you, that digs into your life, and finds out who your friends are,” McAfee said.
“What are they doing with that [data]? Are they selling it to the Russians the Chinese? We do not know.”
Niantic has since changed the permissions Pokémon Go uses, and has said the initial email access was a mistake.
But focusing on Pokémon Go is unfair, as nearly every app you download from the app store asks for some sort of special permission.
“Why pick on Pokémon Go when a quarter of a million apps have been doing this for years,” he said.
Google and Apple are both aware of the app permission problem. Even though you have to explicitly do so, many users unknowingly grant apps permissions they may not need, like email access for Pokémon Go.
Starting in Android 6.0 Marshmallow, apps began to ask for permissions when users used the app, instead of all at once at download. Apple allows users to see all the apps using a specific permission, like access to the camera, in a single settings page and toggle individual apps on or off from there. Apple also requests permissions when the app first asks for them, similar to Google.
“I defy anyone to tell me that their phone does not already make calls without your knowledge, read your text messages, change your wifi connectivity, read your emails, read your contacts and everything else,” McAfee said.
With that in mind, it might be a good idea to stroll through the app permission settings on your phone. You might be surprised at what you find.
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