Android app permissions and authorizations, what they are for

Phone, location, microphone: there are many elements to which applications installed on mobile devices have access. That's why it's important to know them

All applications need access to smartphone features in order to work. That's why they ask for permissions. But what are they and, above all, which ones can we grant and which ones can we block? It's a good idea, therefore, to learn about them before downloading an app, in order to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Let's start by saying that an application, in order to do its job fully, must necessarily use some personal data and exploit sensitive parts of the smartphone. An example might help make the concept clearer. We couldn't view contacts on WhatsApp if we didn't authorize the instant messaging app to access our address book. Problems arise when apps request permission to access items that are not relevant to the function at hand. Let's take yet another example. If an alarm clock app asks to use the microphone or access the gallery, we need to ask more than a question about why.

Authorizations on Android

Now let's take a look at how the Android authorization mechanism works. Over the years, Google has made the permissions system very clear and has imposed strict rules for developers regarding user privacy. You can, in fact, view the permissions required by the app before downloading it on the Google Play Store, or at any time from the device's settings. Android checks if the app has all the necessary permissions, otherwise it won't allow you to use it.

Why it's important to know permissions

But why is it necessary to know what permissions we grant to apps? To understand this, let's step back and take the example of the alarm clock app. If the app accesses the contact list (a very strange action), it might upload data to its own server without needing to do so. It's clear that in these cases the risk of it using them for other purposes is very real. Or let's say an app gets permission from you to access your phone and text messages: it could potentially make calls or send and receive messages for a fee.

Another sensitive permission concerns location, which allows an app, such as Google Maps, to use the device's GPS. An app may also need to access media files in memory. In short, there is a lot of personal data that an app can collect. The advice, therefore, is to pay attention to permissions, avoiding the mechanical gesture of granting all permissions blindly.