Phone App Flim-Flam

How much do you really know about — and how much should you really trust — the apps that you are downloading and installing on your phone?

best_android_phone_uk_phonesLast week I ran across an on-line article with the unnerving headline “Two-thirds of all Android antivirus apps are frauds.”  The article reports on testing that was performed by an Austrian group called AV-Comparatives that specializes in testing antivirus products.  The group looked at 250 Android antivirus apps that were available on the Google Play Store.  It installed the apps on phones, then tried to download malicious software that was in use last year and therefore should be detected by any decent, functioning antivirus app.

The testing found that more than half of the apps didn’t work as advertised.  Many didn’t “scan” and analyze the code of the downloaded software at all, and instead just checked the title of the software against “whitelists” and “blacklists.”  As a result, some antivirus apps found themselves to be malware because the developers forgot to include them on the “whitelist” of approved software.  In addition, some apps were easily fooled because package names that included references to reputable software creators, like “com.adobe,” could bypass the software and permit malware to be installed without detection.

In all, the Austrian group found that 170 of the 250 antivirus apps failed the basic detection tests and were either ineffective or unsafe.  AV-Comparatives concluded that many of the apps were developed by amateurs or were basically being used as platforms for ads and were not legitimate antivirus protection.

I use an Apple iPhone, so I’m not directly affected by issues with Android antivirus apps, but the testing of the antivirus apps raises a more basic question — how are apps being screened, and how much of what is made available to the general public, on either a free or paid basis, is valid and works as advertised?  And, even worse, is anyone trustworthy actually looking at the apps to see whether they are vehicles for getting access to personal phones for fraudulent purposes?  How does anyone know that the app they are downloading isn’t a technological Trojan horse?

Keeping It Semi-Stupid

With people raving about the capabilities of the new iPhone X, with its facial recognition security and “all-screen” design and other capabilities, and new apps flooding the market every day, other people have decided they want to move in the opposite direction.

hoggatt6Rather than trying to get the smartest smartphone out there, they’ve decided to dumb it down.  They don’t want to micromanage their lives through their phones and be totally wired in to every known and developing form of social media at every moment of the day.  They don’t want to get little dings and buzzes and snatches of music when a text arrives or a check clears in their bank account or they hit their step goal for the day.  In short, they are tired of their phones being a key focus of their lives.

Some manufacturers are responding to this apparent impulse on the part of some people by producing consciously dumb phones.  One “new” product only takes and makes calls, and it sells for only a fraction of the cost of the brainiac smart phones.  Imagine!  A cell phone that simply functions as . . . a phone!  Another option, slightly more expensive, lets you talk, text, set alarms, and use a calendar.  Other manufacturers are offering “back to basics” options that promise longer battery life.

Or, you can do what I’ve done, which is never add many apps to your cell phone in the first place.  My phone functions as a phone, an email and text repository, a camera, a clock, and a place to play Spider Solitaire when I’m waiting for an appointment.  As smartphones go, it’s about at third-grade level.  In the modern world of business, where being accessible at all times is taken for granted, you really can’t get by without being quickly reachable by phone or email or text, and the other features come in handy.  But I don’t want to spend my life staring and tapping away at a phone, or being distracted by prompts, or feeling like everything I do is being monitored and measured.

I’d like to think there is life outside of my cell phone.  Is that so dumb?

Going Juvenile

The Washington Post reports that the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. is trying to get people to stop playing Pokemon Go in the museum itself.  Apparently the museum has three “PokeStops” in the game, so there are people walking around the museum with their eyes glued to their smartphones, playing the game rather than actually looking at the exhibits and thinking about the monstrosity that was the Holocaust.  The Holocaust Museum is now trying to see if it can be removed from the game.

maxresdefaultIf, like me, you don’t know what the hell Pokemon Go is — even though the Post article describes it as a “cultural phenomenon” — some background is in order.  Pokemon Go is a game you play on your smartphone in which you walk around the real world and find and collect digital creatures.  It came out recently and quickly became ridiculously popular and downloaded by huge numbers of people.  The game encourages players to “catch ’em all.” PokeStops, of which the Holocaust Museum unfortunately is one, are places where you can win free items that evidently help you do better in the game.

The game is supposed to encourage people to get out and explore the real world — really, are we at the point where we need a phone app to do that? — but of course there’s something kind of bizarre, sad, and dangerous about people walking around outside focused on their phones rather than their surroundings.  Just what we need, more hopelessly distracted smartphone watchers to join the constantly texting crew out here in the real world!  Predictably, some Pokemon Go users are reporting suffering injuries because they’ve tripped, fallen into holes, crashed their skateboards, or — get this! — learned that you shouldn’t try to play the game while riding a bicycle.

I’m not a gamer, so I’m not going to get the allure of playing a game in the real world when you could just be interacting with the real world as it is.  I’m not going to understand why people playing a smartphone game would risk life and limb trying to catch digital objects rather than, say, making sure they aren’t walking into traffic or stumbling into holes in a sidewalk.  But you’d think that people would at least understand that it’s inappropriate and disrespectful to be playing a silly game in a place like the Holocaust Museum.  And apparently the problem isn’t just with kids — the Post article linked above quotes thirty-somethings at the museum who were playing the game.  It’s just another sign that, in some ways, the world is becoming a more juvenile, less serious place.

What’s next?  People stumbling over cemetery headstones and interrupting burial services while trying to catch “Squirtle”?  Players wandering around hospitals or nursing homes or churches hunting for “Doduo”?  It’s embarrassing.