With consumers spending 86 percent of their smartphone time on apps, according to recent studies, cybersecurity experts are warning about the possible dangers of popular, free apps that could be traps set by cyber-thieves seeking to steal a user's most private information.
"It's an incredible concern," said Gary Miliefsky, the CEO of US cybersecurity firm Snoopwall.
Many free apps like flashlight apps, children's games and even the Bible are designed to mine and sell a person's private information.
When people agree to an app's permissions, they may also be giving the app access to their location, photographs, phone contacts and even search histories.
But experts warn that some free apps, which make money by selling certain personal data, may go even further.
Created by hackers, they can embed malicious spyware -- malware -- with the sole purpose of stealing a user's identity and financial data or even listening in on phone calls.
"It's spying on you and it's spying on these other apps," Miliefsky said. "We call these remote access Trojans or RATs."
The Application Developers Alliance, a trade association, said that app developers "are doing a remarkable maintenance job, maintaining consumers' trust and securing their data," including adding features to protect anonymity and privacy. The group said, however, that consumers must also protect themselves.
Experts advise smartphone owners to read the permissions before loading an app and not to download anything that asks for access it doesn't need. Also, do some spring cleaning occasionally and uninstall any apps that go unused. And finally, experts said, consider paid apps that often ask for fewer permissions than the free ones.