Using apps safely and securely
Apps are an important way to communicate and access the internet through our phones, tablets and TVs.
While apps provide a simple way to access content and services, it's important to know how to use them safely.
Here are some tips to help you make the most of apps on your device and how to use them confidently. This guide has been produced by Ofcom in association with the Information Commissioner's Office, the Competition and Markets Authority, PhonepayPlus and the Financial Conduct Authority.
Some apps could exploit your mobile device. This is more likely if the app is from a less reputable (or unknown) source.
For example, someone could take a popular paid-for app, add their own harmful elements and then offer it for free on 'bulletin boards' or 'peer-to-peer' networks.
After somebody has installed this app, a hacker could potentially take control of the handset and could make calls, run up charges without your permission, or send and intercept SMS and voicemail messages. You may not know anything is wrong until it's too late.
Download apps from official app stores and avoid apps from unauthorised sources. Also research apps and check reviews before downloading them.
Some apps provide content ratings. These help you to judge whether an app is appropriate for children.
These ratings give guidance on the content and intensity of themes such as violence, offensive language, sexual content and drug references. Each app store has its own content rating policy. This means that ratings will differ.
These ratings relate to the content in the app itself. If you use apps that allow you or your child to connect to the internet and access content outside the app, you may need further device-level or network-level protections, filters or safe search options.
More detail on these can be found at Internet Matters.
When you download an app, it will often ask whether it can access certain systems or data on your device.
For example, navigation apps may ask for permission to use your current location to provide directions and location information. Photo-editing apps might ask for access to your photos so you can edit photos you take through the app.
App developers should only request data and features that are important for the app to work. However, some apps may ask for more, unnecessary permissions.
To protect your personal information, read permission requests carefully. Make sure you are comfortable with the information you allow the app to use.
If you’re uncomfortable with the requested permissions, deny the request or search for another app.
More of us are using our smartphones to manage our money.
There are some advantages to mobile banking: apps offer a simpler and more convenient way to bank on the move, and also save you time and money.
But there are risks too. Remember some basic housekeeping:
- log out of your banking app when you’re not using it;
- only download banking apps from official app stores;
- don’t change the factory security settings on your phone; and
- protect your phone with a password.
Using apps consumes more mobile data. If you're not careful about monitoring your data usage, you could end up going over your allowance and paying extra. Most mobile providers now offer online tools or apps to allow you to check your usage easily.
In addition, using apps abroad can lead to higher bills. Consider switching off mobile data roaming while you are away to help avoid a bill shock. Our video guides show you how to do this on some popular handsets. For more details on how to use apps abroad safely, see our guide to mobile roaming.
Many apps, both free and paid for, offer optional extras at a cost. These are known as in-app purchases. For example, you may have to make an in-app purchase to continue to play a game after a certain level, or to speed up gameplay.
In-app purchases can be of concern to parents, because children using the device may run up large bills without their parents' knowledge. If you want to control in-app purchases, you can use a number of tools available in the main app stores. For instance, some operating systems allow you to require a passcode for each download or purchase.
Some mobile handsets allow you to turn off in-app purchases altogether. Our video guides show you how to do this.
How many apps do you have on your device that you don’t actually use? Our research found almost half of apps downloaded are not used regularly.
Filling your device with dozens of apps can affect its performance. Not only do they take up space, but some apps run constantly in the background which can slow down your device and drain its battery. Go through your apps and remove any that you don't use anymore.
Keep the apps you regularly use up to date, as this may fix performance or security issues.
If you decide to donate, resell or recycle an old phone, erase all data and apps first. If you don’t, these may be accessed by whoever owns it after you. You should also be able to find a 'factory reset' option in your device settings, although this might not delete all your personal information.