If you’re like most people, your phone is probably bursting with an array of apps, including some that you may rarely (if ever) use. It’s a good idea to review your apps regularly and identify ones you can remove. Apps take up precious space on your phone, using your memory and making it harder to find the things you need quickly. Also, some apps could even be spying on you or otherwise posing a security risk.
Don’t go on a deleting frenzy just yet, though. For some apps, you’ll need to do more than simply hitting the “delete” button. You may think you’ve dumped an app, only to have its remnants lurking in the background, leaving your device vulnerable or causing other issues. “The biggest misconception is that once an app is deleted, the relationship with the app and the company that owns it is severed,” says Jean Vixamar, a senior vulnerability management specialist in Tampa, Florida. “That could not be further from the truth. Those terms and conditions you casually checked off matter. In most cases, you’ve given them unfettered permission to use your data in whatever ways they see fit, within the interpretation of applicable laws, of course.”
There is a surefire way, however, to make sure that an app is fully gone—and that your personal information stays safe. Here’s what you need to know.
Convenience comes at a cost
Many of us regularly use a variety of apps throughout the day, implementing them automatically into our daily routines without giving them much thought. Without a doubt, they can make our lives easier and save us quite a bit of time. But this convenience can have a downside.
“Applications are everywhere,” says Steve Tcherchian, Chief Information Security Officer at XYPRO, a cybersecurity analytics company. “We use them to shop, bank, order dinner, get a ride, keep our house warm, and even keep track of our children. But our data needs to be shared with applications for them to provide value. In most cases, this means extremely sensitive information about us and our lives. All this data is shared under the assumption and hope that the application creator is doing everything possible to protect our most personal information. As the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal proved, that is hardly the case.” Tcherchian adds that apps are the top mode of attack in most data breaches, according to the 2018 version of Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR). Don’t miss these other things that make your phone an easy target for hackers.
Why deleting apps can be tricky
Apps are often part of an intricate web of interconnected tools, products, and sites that track and share your information, likely without you even realizing it. “Think about a dating app, for example,” says Tcherchian. “Typically, these are linked through a Facebook account that enables the app to access pictures, friends lists, and other information about yourself available through Facebook. Assume the application developer, with your permission, has access to everything available through your Facebook profile.”
Tcherchian cautions app users that you cannot take it for granted that your private information will be protected. “Most applications are horribly insecure, and developers do not follow security best practices when developing an application,” he explains. “Applications are designed for functionality, not security. Security is difficult and time-consuming, often adding delays to product launch and revenue-generating activities. Assume that the application does not have your data properly secured.”
The right way to remove an app completely
There are multiple steps involved in making sure an app is fully disconnected from your other accounts and information. Tcherchian suggests following this process:
- Delete all of your data on the app. All of it! Go through every setting on the app and look for options about data or privacy.
- Also log in through a web browser. Sometimes you’ll have additional settings available through the desktop version of the app.
- Unlink or revoke any Facebook or Google integrations you may have enabled.
- Contact the app developer and request in writing that your data be completely deleted.
Apps you should avoid
Certain apps are especially troublesome. Experts recommend deleting these apps immediately—or, better yet, not installing them in the first place. “There are a number of apps that are extremely dangerous from a security and privacy perspective,” says Vixamar. “I won’t specifically list apps by name because that list changes on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. I will generalize and say that you should be wary of any app that requires access to your photos, files, camera, microphone, and more—totally or in combination. You have to ask yourself, ‘Does this app really need all of this access, or do I really need this app?'” Watch out for these fake versions of your favorite apps that scammers use to steal your data.