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Are Free Apps Safe?

applications . / Credit: Mobile Applications Image via Shutterstock

Think free apps are all fun and games? When it comes to security and privacy risks, you're better off with paid apps, a new study finds.

In its Summer 2013 App Reputation Report, Appthority, an app risk-management service provider, examined the hidden behaviors of free and paid mobile apps and found that, overall, 83 percent of the most popular apps are associated with security risks and privacy issues. Free apps, however, are more likely to compromise your information and device.

According to the report, 95 percent of free apps displayed at least one risky behavior, compared with 78 percent of paid apps. For instance, Appthority found that free apps, particularly free gaming apps, are more likely to read users' calendars and access social networks, as well as ascertain their unique device identifier (UDI), a series of numbers specific to a single device. Access to a user's UDI poses a host of privacy issues, such as location tracking, activity monitoring and control of the program installed on the device.

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Yet the report shows that 78 percent of the most popular free Android apps have access to users' UDI. Although Apple strictly prohibits UDI access, 5.5 percent of tested apps still fell through the cracks.

Free apps are also more likely to geographically identify users: 72 percent of the top free apps track user location, whereas only 41 percent of paid apps do so, the report said.

Nonetheless, paid apps are not without risks. Appthority also found that 39 percent of paid iOS and 16 percent of paid Android apps collect and share user data with ad networks, which may be alarming for those with sensitive information on their devices.

For businesses, these findings indicate a need for companies to analyze the risks associated with downloading free and paid apps, particularly with employee-owned devices and in creating a bring-your-own-device policy, according to an infographic that accompanied the report.

The study analyzed 400 of the most popular iOS and Android apps and the top 100 free and paid apps for each platform.

Follow Sara Angeles on Twitter @sara_angeles. Follow us on Twitter @BNDarticles, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.

Sara Angeles

Sara is a tech writer with a background in business and marketing. After graduating from UC Irvine, she worked as a copywriter and blogger for nonprofit organizations, tech labs and lifestyle companies. She started freelancing in 2009 and joined Business News Daily in 2013. Follow Sara Angeles on Twitter @sara_angeles.