Too Good to Be True: The Dangers of Free Applications

Although you might not realize it, there are numerous examples of free software and applications that you use on a regular basis. On the surface, they seem the perfect tools because they don’t cost any money. Furthermore, you can immediately download them on a computer or mobile device. However, in many cases, free software and applications really are too good to be true.

Free software has two different definitions. It can either refer to programs that you download and install for free or software that doesn’t invade your privacy. The second part is critical. Yet, a lot of people end up with software that charges much more than money; your online security. Although the word free can be tempting, it’s important to know just what you’re signing up for before downloading any product.

The Risks of Free Software and Applications

Dangers of Free Software and Applications

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The Rise of Free Software

Free software came into prominence with the rise of the internet as individuals and companies realized there were gaps in people’s needs. Numerous companies were willing to engage in proprietary battles for programs that rapidly became essential for everyday life and business pursuits.

The companies that develop free software generate profit thanks to users. Allow me to explain. Since developers don’t charge anything for their programs, they resort to data collecting and sharing to make money. In other words, once you install this software on your device, it will monitor your online activity and sell it to third parties. These parties, which are usually advertisement companies, use such info to display customized ads when you use the Internet.

Most people don’t actually read the “Terms of Agreement” or licensing pages before they install such programs. As a result, many users make themselves vulnerable to invasions of privacy by the software developing company.

How can these applications record your data? With “cookies,” and the delicious ones your grandmother used to make.

Cookies are packets of data that internet servers send to browsers when users frequently return to certain pages. Web browsers and websites use them to track and gather your online activity information and sell them to other companies. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and similar applications do the same thing.

Why Do Companies Gather This Information?

The types of information that software and applications steal from devices vary, but they tend to include similar elements. Web browsers and other sites like to track people’s shopping habits and interests. Then, they share such info with other companies to show you related advertisements that might appeal to you.

To put it simply, everyone aims to make money. If the application can display ads that make you want to purchase something, then the companies gain profit. However, more sensitive data can be compromised. This information includes your full name, age, location, address, and place of employment.

This won’t sound much of a big deal for some, but it should. Software companies can discover a lot about you through these programs. They can also share your data with other parties. Facebook is perhaps the biggest offender, but others like Google are also major buyers and sellers of data. 

The Pros of Using Free Software

Despite everything that I’ve mentioned so far, free software still offers plenty of advantages. After all, these applications are necessary to have a functioning social, personal, and professional life. Bear in mind these pros don’t apply to every free software. 

  • Available at no Cost: Most software and applications like basic Microsoft Office require an initial payment or frequent fees. Others, however, won’t cost a dime. 
  • More Freedom: When computers and the internet burst onto the scene, companies encouraged individual development and experimentation because the web wasn’t considered as private property. Nowadays, software and application developers make it illegal to develop and experiment.
  • Auditability: Open-source programs allow anyone to read and modify the source code. This means that tech-savvy users can check for strange developments or undisclosed aspects. But what about those who don’t understand coding and programming? Well, there are independent security firms, developers, and experts who regularly inspect open-source code for bugs and security flaws.

The Cons of Using Free Software

Free software often comes with a lot of problems. I especially advise you to avoid free programs that are in charge of protecting your online privacy and security like antiviruses. That’s because most of them are inefficient and cannot block any potential attack.

These problems include:

  • Hidden malware: It’s easy for the developers to hide malicious software in free applications since users download it directly on their devices. This malware can hack your phone or PC and steal sensitive data like bank logins and passwords.
  • Lack of Support and documentation: When using free software, the creators don’t release their notes about the program’s development. As a result, individuals can’t access the source code to see any changes or important information.
  • Loss of Interest: A major problem with free programs is that the developers will sometimes stop improving or updating them. 

What are the Most Popular Free Software and Applications?

There are different versions of free software and applications that people use all of the time on their devices. They include web browsers, antivirus software, and video call applications like Skype. Sometimes individuals don’t even realize that the items they are using qualify as free software and applications, typically because they are not familiar with the definition.

Since a lot of programs are now built-in to our devices, it can be a bit confusing to determine which ones fall under the “free” category. Therefore, I created the following list of the most popular free services that you can find on your device. But keep in mind that some of these programs can be quite dangerous, especially if your device doesn’t have proper protection.

  • Google Chrome
  • Skype
  • Firefox
  • Avast Free Antivirus
  • BitTorrent
  • Adblockers
  • Facebook, Facebook Messenger
  • Google Maps
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • WhatsApp
  • AccuWeather
  • Zynga games
  • SnapChat
  • Flashlight apps
  • Pokémon Go
  • YouTube
  • Angry Birds

I advise against the use of some of these applications because they facilitate the illegal download of copyrighted materials, especially BitTorrent. Individuals who use these programs frequently make themselves a target for viruses, hackers, and malware. 

But please note that BitTorrent is not against the law if you use it to share files legally. However, if you download copyrighted, then you are walking on a thin line.

Dangerous Free Mobile Apps

You can find hundreds of free mobile applications on your device’s app store. And despite Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store constantly checking each app for security risks, that doesn’t mean that all programs are safe. Google and Apple don’t inspect the ads for any potential malware. This means that advertisements can direct you to harmful websites, or even contain viruses.

Besides, some free apps that you install on your phone invade too much of your privacy, and they include the most popular ones like social media apps (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat…)

These apps, which are quite popular and essential among users, require access to most of our phone’s data. That includes location, gallery, contact list, camera, microphone, texts, call logs, and storage.

Therefore, it’s up to you to make sure the app you want to install is safe. You can start by doing a bit of research on the app, or even read the users’ reviews. Furthermore, stick to your device’s official app store and never resort to third parties to download apps. And make sure you read the list of permissions. After all, why would a flashlight app require your location?

You can also manage the access that each app has to your phone.

For Android users:

  1. Open ‘Settings.’
  2. Hit ‘Apps‘ or ‘Application Manager.’
  3. Tap on the app that you want to modify.
  4. Now, press ‘Permissions.’
  5. Disable any access you find invasive.

For iOS users: 

  1. Click on ‘Settings.’
  2. Go to ‘Privacy.’
  3. You’ll see a list of permissions that apps can access.
  4. Hit on each one to see which app can access what.
  5. Disable any access you want by untoggling the permission.

But please note that forbidding too many permissions can affect the overall performance of certain apps, and prevent them from functioning properly. For example, Instagram must have access to your gallery if you want to post a picture using the social media platform.

Conclusion

Is free software worth it? That’s totally up to you. If you’re willing to deal with the many risks that come with it, then perhaps you should go for it. But keep in mind that while you don’t have to reach into your pocket to get one, the cost could be much higher. Therefore, before you download any program, take a good hard look at the “Terms of Agreement,” as well as the software available. Also avoid downloading any application that encourages illegal usage, such as streaming proprietary products.

Do you prefer free or paid software? Tell us what you think in the comment section below.

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