They will let you do anything from play scrabble to light up a dark hallway. But you may not realize what is underneath those playful apps.
Some Fresno City College students could not believe what one of their favorite smartphone apps could do. The three friends did not realize their personal data was being accessed by an app they use simply to look up words in a dictionary.
What is more surprising? Apps everywhere are doing the same thing.
From the flashlight app to the popular Words With Friends game, fun apps that often come free, could cost some their privacy.
"These applications are a bit way too curious with this information," Alex Cosoi, from Cluefulapp.com said
Cosoi is a spokesman for Clueful-app.com., a free web-based application that can tell you what data your apps collect without you realizing it.
"That's why Clueful is there to make people wonder why this application would require all this information," Cosoi said.
Clueful is made by Bit Defender, an internet security company based in Romania. The way it works is you type in the name of a smartphone app, and then Clueful displays a list of the data your app is capable of mining.
"People have this idea that there is no cost for trying out a free app or they don't have to think about it," said Parker Higgins a privacy advocate.
Higgins says both free and paid apps are collecting the data. It's legal as long as the apps disclose those practices. Once a developer collects the information, it's nearly impossible to know how it's used.
"When they've got millions of addresses it makes them a tempting target for hackers," Higgins said.
Developers say they need to collect data for several reasons: they may access your Facebook page or address book to connect you with friends for games. They may change your calendar to remind you of a scheduled event. Largely, advertisers use the data to target advertising to you.
Morgan Reed, Industry Spokesperson of Competitive Technology, says ads are necessary when apps are free.
"I'm giving you this free app, I'm going to show you some ads and to do so; I'm going to collect a little bit of information about you," Reed said.
Clueful was previously sold in the iTunes store. Apple said it removed the app last July, because of the way it was marketed. The app is back as a free online.