The big security benefit of the Android operating system is that it forces apps to run inside a sandbox with limited access to system resources. Apps are essentially isolated from the rest of the system unless the user explicitly grants access permissions upon app installation. This restriction gives a high degree of transparency regarding the potential risks of installing third party apps from Google’s Play Store.
Of course, permissions are only meaningful if users pay close attention when downloading apps. A flashlight app, for example, should raise suspicion if it requires access to your phone’s location information. The Federal Trade Commission actually sued a flashlight app maker in 2013 for secretly collecting user location data and selling it to advertisers.
If you already installed dozens of apps on your Android device, reviewing their permissions one at a time would be an extremely time-consuming process. Fortunately, there is an app that makes it easy to obtain an at-a-glance look at all your apps and their permissions. Permission Friendly Apps is a tool that generates an inventory of your apps and ranks them in order of risk. The tool does this by first assigning a score to each type of permission based on the privacy risk of the permission — the lower the score the better. So the permission to obtain GPS location data, for example, would be weighted more heavily than, say, the permission to prevent devices from sleeping. A sum total score is then calculated for each app to allow for sorting and comparison based on privacy risk. I checked my phone and my privacy-conscious Dolphin Zero browser was given a score of 400 while Firefox was given a score of 2,000.
The Permission Friendly Apps tool also supports filtering the list of apps by permission name. This function is useful in pinpointing apps with specific permission requirements, such as the need to access the Internet. I’ve used this feature myself to help decide on the best digital clock app to keep on my phone. I’m more likely to keep an app if it doesn’t require network access permissions since that indicates it is free of annoying banner advertisements.
So if you are curious about the Android security permission requirements of your Android app collection, I would urge you to download this app to find out. And in case you might be wondering, the app itself needs no special system permissions. It therefore gives itself a privacy risk score of zero.