How to spot an untrustworthy app

Today, you could ask almost any Aussie which smartphone or tablet apps they like to use and they’ll be able to list off a few in a heartbeat. If you ask someone to recommend you an app, one of its main “selling” points will probably be that it’s free: all you have to do is download it, create an account (or just link your Facebook profile) and then you can use it without paying.

Sadly, many of these free apps can come with a hidden cost: safety. In recent news alone, at least 76 iOS apps have been reported as vulnerable to security attacks, including apps which handle sensitive information such as health and financial details.

We’ve put together some info to help you make some smart moves when it comes to the apps you choose, so have a read before you give any apps your personal details, especially those free ones. Remember, while paid apps are usually more “legit”, they’re not immune to questionable practices or security issues, so this advice should be helpful no matter which apps you use.

If it’s free to use, the “product” may just be you

When it comes to free apps, one of the biggest risks is to your privacy. It can be helpful to look into exactly how an app makes its money. It’s all well and good for an app to have in-app purchases available or show you advertisements, but if there’s a sneaky clause in the Terms of Agreement that lets the app sell your personal information to third-party marketing agencies, that’s a no-go.

Reading the entire Terms and Conditions can be an exhausting chore for any app, big or small. Thankfully, there are easier ways to get the most important details hiding in those bloated legal documents. Terms of Service; Didn’t Read is an ongoing project with an aim to clearly display what you, as a user, need to know about using an app or service (without the mumbo-jumbo).

Knowledge is power

Another way to check up on an app’s security cred is to read reviews made by other people. Both iTunes and the Google Play store allow users to leave reviews on the app’s listing, so that’s the best place to start. Just remember to be suspicious if there are too many glowing, 5-star reviews which lack substance. The developers may have paid a third party to write a ton of fake reviews to make their app look good, or they may have built the app to require all users to leave a review (typically encouraging 5 stars) before the rest of the app will be unlocked.

You’d also be amazed at what you can find with a bit of Googling – if there’s something shady going on with an app’s agreements, it’s a safe bet that there’s already a forum discussion or tech news article about it. This can be particularly helpful with finding out about stuff you may not necessarily know much about, such as data leaks or security flaws.

Think of the children

If you think it’s rough enough keeping track of your privacy and safety in today’s digital world, imagine being a kid. Apps that are popular with younger demographics typically also see an increased risk of stranger-danger and cyber-bullying.

Apps like Instagram have recently made improvements to empower users against cyber-bullying, but not all apps are so careful to create a safe and friendly environment for their users. Family Education has some in-depth information for parents about the latest apps that are popular with kids and teenagers.

It’s important to discuss the risks of using these apps with your children so they can understand the potential consequences of their online behaviour. Simply grabbing their phone and deleting a ton of apps will most likely put them on the fast track to secretive behavior – remember, they use some of these apps to keep in touch with their closest friends.

When you chat with your kids about which apps they use and how they use them, here’s a few important questions to keep in mind:

  • Does the app allow users to be completely anonymous? This should be a big red flag – “anonymous” typically means virtually no consequences for bullies and predators.
  • Does the app have the ability to block others if needed? This is an important step in handling cyber-bullying.
  • Is the app intended to be used by their age group? It’s pretty unlikely that a dating app is appropriate for anyone under 18.
  • Is there a way to minimise the risk? Agreeing on ways to use apps safely (such as keeping accounts private or only adding friends they know in person) can reduce the risk of your child being exposed to bullying or inappropriate content.
  • Do they feel comfortable coming to you for help? Building a trusting relationship with your child means they’re more likely to come to you when something is wrong so you can help them fix the problem.

What’s your top mobile safety tip? Share it in the comments.


  1. Suleman Kesh says:

    Thank you very much Gina for that very useful information !

  2. Deborah says:

    Thanks Gina, I circulated Tracey Holmes unfortunate experience with her phone number and identity theft. I is good to have advice to stay one step ahead of the criminals.

  3. Paul says:

    Your statement that 76 “Apple” IOS apps are “vulnerable to security attacks” would seem to be a bit bias, as I am sure even more free appl’s are on the android based phones. Apple has already asked developers to stop using the old TLS.

  4. Lyn and Tom Broadhurst says:

    Thank you, Gina. Indirectly you have answered a question over which I have pondered for many many months – on and off.Clicking on the ‘links’ did the trick. In previous times, the Census we all fill in every ….. years, used to ask which TV programme we were/are watching. That question doesn’t have to be asked anymore, because we’re being tracked by the TV we watch. These ‘reports’ by yourself and the team are extremely informative and a pleasure to read. Thank you

  5. Karen says:

    Great article, thank you

  6. Adriana says:

    great info, thanks, Hadn’t considered those points.

  7. Marie Vale says:

    If iinet is good enough to have english speakers in the call centres why is everything written in american???????????
    i still love my country

  8. Ken Lowth says:

    Thank you Gina for the heads up. Is there a list of the iOS apps that are vulnerable?

  9. tracy kirk says:

    Good work Gina

  10. Jennifer Bungey says:

    Than you for that information. as I am older I do not do banking on my phone but do use some apps. Thanks Jenny

  11. Chris says:

    Mentioning free apps and the report of 76 iOS apps having security vulnerabilities is misleading. There’s nothing in that report linking those vulnerabilities to the cost of the apps. Any app is subject to the competency of the programmer.

  12. Vince says:

    I only run one app and that is Accu weather.
    Plus i never answer unless the call has a name and valid number.

  13. John Boase says:

    Hello Gina

    John and Christine here just recently we have started to have problems with opening the links on emails and other such items Have had to copy and paste the link to the browser and open there we have Windows 10 and outlook microsoft 2007 Can you help or advise here

  14. Patrick Armstrong says:

    Read carefully; Nice to keep up with what is going on. I am 85 yrs and it is easy to get left behind.

  15. Philip Robinson says:

    Never even knew this was a problem. I will definitely be more careful now I know what’s going on.

  16. Mike says:

    If there is an offer that sounds to good to be true, then it is most likely to good to beTRUE.

  17. Matt Dwyer says:

    Hi Gina,
    Thanks for that information, it is actually quite simple but i hadn’t thought of looking at like that.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Great very good information. Kale

  19. Anonymous says:

    I am 75 yo and so happy to see you advising parents on the dangers of cyber-bullying etc on the internet. Thank you iinet.

  20. Ken Lowth says:


  21. Andrew says:

    I use Sophos on my mobile devices it is surprising just how much information apps want from your mobile device.
    Sophos will show me what each wants and allow me to remove it if I want.

  22. Rowie says:

    Good info and well written. Thanks

  23. tex pipke says:

    This has really not been very helpful. I want to know how I assess an app before downloading it. Is there a routine that I can follow?

  24. Peter says:

    What about the obvious solution. Let Google and Apple, the owners of iTune and PlayStore test and certify the apps so we can use the apps from their website with confidence.