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Protect your privacy while using mobile shopping apps

If you use shopping apps on your smartphone, you may be sacrificing your privacy in ways you aren't even aware of. Here are four steps you can take to protect yourself.

If you use shopping apps on your smartphone, you may be sacrificing your privacy in ways you aren't even aware of.

Who doesn't love a bargain or freebie? I used an app when I bought this coffee and am on my way to earning a free drink.

But a CreditCards.com review of a dozen popular shopping and deal-finder apps, including Wal-Mart, Amazon, Groupon and Starbucks -- turned up some stuff you might find creepy.
Some of them want to keep tabs on your phone calls, track your location, even control your phone's camera.

Sure, they might need your location to alert you to a deal nearby, but it's not clear why they want to know the names and numbers of who you've been calling lately. All that data could be troublesome if it falls into the wrong hands.

Here are four steps you can take to protect yourself.
Step 1: Only download apps from Google Play or Apple's iTunes App Store.
Apps have to meet certain requirements to even be listed in those places, so you'll get at least some basic security and data protections.
Step 2: Review the app's permissions before downloading or using it.
If you have an Android device, after you click "install" to download an app, you'll get a prompt asking you to grant the app access to a list of different phone functions.
Before hitting "accept," read through those permissions and ask yourself: "Do they make sense for the app?"
If the permissions don't make sense and feel a bit invasive, don't complete the download. Instead, look for another app or move on to step three to learn more about those sketchy permissions.
iPhones are a little different. You won't be asked for access to your phone's features until you're setting up or using the app for the first time.
Some apps still function fine if you don't give them all the permissions they want. Others just won't work without certain permissions, so you'll want to remove the app and find a different one if you're not comfortable with what it asks for.
Step 3: Read the company's privacy policy.
I know, easier said than done.
These policies are long and very hard to read on a small screen.
They're also full of jargon like "proprietary content protections" and "generally accepted industry security standards," whatever that means.
It's easier to look at them on a computer. You can also use an extension available on Google Chrome called PrivacyCheck. It's from the University of Texas Center for Identity and it scans a policy for you, then displays a series of icons to tell you about the most important things you may be agreeing to.
Still want to use that app? You can at least tighten your phone's general security settings before doing so.
On Android devices you open Settings and scroll down to Security. You can encrypt your internal storage card, hide passwords and restrict app access through security settings. Go to Settings, Location and you can also adjust how precise your location settings are.
On an Apple device, go to Settings, Privacy and you can turn location tracking on and off for the whole system and adjust settings for individual apps, among other things.
Take those four steps and you'll be more aware of what you're getting into before you shop your rights away. For more information, go to CreditCards.com.

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