What Are App Permissions and What Do You Need to Look Out For?

When you install an app, you’ll be prompted to accept different permissions needed to complete the installation before downloading it. But what do they all mean? Can you accept some of them but not others?

What Are App Permissions and What Do You Need to Look Out For?

When you’re prompted to accept permissions before an app installation, it’s not always easy to work out what they mean. You might be asking yourself why a photo sharing app need permission to access your phonebook contacts, for example.

Many users are put off downloading an app because they don’t understand the permissions they’re being asked about. The vocabulary used often isn’t straightforward.

Here are some of the most common terms used to help you understand what each of the permission requests mean.

Permissions that control user functions:

Device ID and call information

This is the permission the app needs to read the status of your phone, for example if the app needs to be interrupted to receive a call.


When an app asks permission for this it’ll actually only be accessing your contacts, not changing them. It could be because the app is used for sending SMS messages, social network notifications or some diary information.


Beware of apps asking for this permission if they’re not an actual message sending service. Malicious apps can send SMS messages without your permission and could cost you a small fortune when it comes to the phone bill.


This one gives permission to the app to dial phone numbers from your contacts without prior notification. Apps like Skype or Google Talk need this permission.

Take care storing personal details on your smartphone.

Permissions that control the daily functions of a smartphone:

Device and app history

Different browsers, backup facilities and some social networks need this. A game for example, shouldn’t. It could be trying to spy on your browsing behaviour.

Wi-Fi connection information

This gives the app permission to connect when there’s a Wi-Fi signal nearby.

App registration data

This allows apps to access registration data from other apps. This can sometimes be sensitive data and many actually don’t need to do it, although some do when sending error reports to developers.

Look into permissions before accepting them

Permissions to access personal data on your mobile:


Tells the app your location using the GPS network. This could be used when you’re browsing online or by apps operating with geo-location. It’s also very useful when segmenting data for advertising purposes.


Certain camera apps will even ask for permission to take photos. In theory, a malicious app coulld take photos and distribute them across the internet, but it would be very difficult for an app to control a smartphone camera.

Internet access

With this permission an app has full access to the internet and could use up your data without warning. Together with other permissions this one can quickly cause serious and inadvertant damage to your phone.

Apps use geo-location need to find out your location

Permissions you need to watch out for:

In-app purchases

Shopping apps usually come with heavy security but you need to check whether the app needs this permission on a case-by-case basis.


This permission allows an app to use your account. It’s what known as an Auth Token and varies according to the account you’re using (Google, Facebook, Yahoo etc.). In general, the account password is protected.

Modify or erase USB storage

When an app asks for this permission it can access the whole of your smartphone’s memory and is able to read, edit and wipe data. With access to the internet, an app could upload private photos to a website

Games sometimes ask for unexpected permissions

Permissions that allow your smartphone to function:

Connect via Bluetooth

Apps that use wireless transmission need to be able to create connections to send files across Bluetooth.

Account administration

This permission allows an app to search for other accounts you have and connect with them. Facebook is the best example – the app allows you to set up various other accounts using your Facebook account information.

Deactivate standby mode

Video content sharing and other apps need this permission to stop the screen from turning off when you’re watching a video or playing a game.

It’s always worth reading the permissions every time you download an app, before you download it. The comments on the app download screen are a good place to find out about the pros and cons of accepting the permissions you need to download an app.