In a prior post we discussed the potential value for a social rating system for smartphone apps. Such a system would give non-expert users some information about apps before installing them. Ultimately, the goal of such a system would be to help users choose between different apps with similar functionality (for an app they need) or decide if the payoff of an app is worth the potential risk of installing it (for apps they want). Both of these use cases would require conscientious ratings of permissions.
We chose to study this issue by considering the range of scores that respondents give to permissions. If respondents were not considering the permissions carefully, we would expect the score to be uniform across different permissions. We examined the top five weather forecasting apps in the Android marketplace: The Weather Channel, WeatherBug Elite, Acer Life Weather, WeatherPro, and AccuWeather Platinum. We chose weather apps because they demonstrate a range of permission requirements; Acer Life Weather requires only four permissions while AccuWeather Platinum and WeatherBug Elite each require eleven permissions. We asked respondents to rate an app's individual permissions as either acceptable or unacceptable.
Our findings, which we present in detail below, show that users will rate application permissions conscientiously. In short, we found that although the approval ratings for each permission are all over 50%, they vary significantly from permission to permission. Approval ratings for individual permissions ranged from 58.8% positive (for “Modify or delete the contents of your USB storage”) to 82.5% (for “Find accounts on the device”). The table at the bottom of this post shows the percentage of users who considered a given permission acceptable. Because the ratings range from acceptable to unacceptable, they are likely representative of a given permissions' risk (unlike uniformly positive or negative reviews). This makes them effective tools for users in determining which applications they wish to install on their phones.
Meaningful ratings tell us that it is possible to build a rating system for application permissions to accompany the existing system for functionality. In our next post, we'll discuss what such a system might look like!
|Modify or delete the contents of your USB storage||58.8 %|
|Send sticky broadcast||60 %|
|Control vibration||67.5 %|
|View Wi-Fi connections||70 %|
|Read phone status and identity||70 %|
|Test access to protected storage||72.5 %|
|Google Play license check||73.8 %|
|Run at startup||75.8 %|
|Read Google service configuration||76.3 %|
|Full network access||76.5 %|
|Approximate location||79 %|
|View network connections||80.5 %|
|Find accounts on the device||82.5 %|