New app helps iPhone users navigate digital privacy

Robert Crossler may be an expert in information systems, but he has a project that even the novice tech user can appreciate.

A new app developed by the Mississippi State University assistant professor in the College of Business, along with France Bélanger of Virginia Tech University, is helping iPhone users make knowledgeable choices about their privacy settings.

The “Privacy Helper” app, available in the App Store, is designed to give users information about various privacy options and even uses audio directions to walk them through changing the settings if they desire. Crossler said it’s not an app for everyday use, but those who use it even once may gain increased peace of mind about how and when their personal information is being shared.

“With the rapid computer technology advancements in today’s society, the ability to protect our personal privacy is becoming much more limited,” he observed. “We believe that through research, we can raise people’s awareness of the importance of protecting your privacy as well as develop programs to help guard against the unwanted sharing of private information.”

The Privacy Helper app is designed to clarify privacy issues. In addition to privacy settings for location-based services, the app helps users navigate settings for system services, shared app access, browsing privacy and ad tracking. One of the primary objectives of the app is simply to convey to users what the settings do and why.

“For example, when you’re uploading your photos to social media, you may not realize you’re giving away that information,” he said.

Crossler said system services collect information from users while they operate their mobile device. For example, traffic data may be collected when users employ Apple’s map. Privacy Helper explains regarding traffic, “When this setting is turned on, your iPhone anonymously sends traffic-based data to Apple to help build a traffic database. This information is used to help provide real time traffic conditions to mapping apps.”

Crossler said many of these security functions “aren’t a bad thing”–but he believes users should be aware of how their information is being used so they can make their own decisions about whether to participate in information sharing with others.

“Our goal is to make people aware of the settings on their iPhone and what they do so they can make an informed decision,” Crossler said.

Privacy Helper is on the iTunes App Store at https://appsto.re/us/4iLA5.i.

Click here to listen to more about Crossler's app.

By Allison Matthews