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How to get the best out of apps

23 October 2014, Cătălina Ciontu, Senior Communications Executive

Apps are becoming more and more present among smartphone users of all ages, whether it’s for chatting, news watching, social media or entertainment purposes – and more and more people are paying for apps via their phone bills.

Earlier this week, CNET reported that US Samsung owners can now charge payments in their app store to the phone bill. More and more people in the UK too are paying for apps in this way, known as operator billing in the UK and carrier billing in the US.

Apps provide great content and services but because purchases can be deducted from your phone bill or your prepaid credit, it pays to know what you're doing.

Here at PhonepayPlus, as the UK’s regulator for premium rate services, we are running a pilot project to regulate app store purchases that are charged to a phone bill. To find out more about the pilot and your rights as a consumer, see our blog for Which? Conversations.

We have also recently worked with Ofcom for creating a guide on how to use apps safely and securely on your mobile.

Here are a few tips on how to get the best out of apps:

1. Install apps from official stores
Such as Google’s Play Store, Apple’s Store, Amazon’s Appstore, Windows Store, Blackberry World etc. and avoid apps often offered for free on bulletin boards or peer-to-peer networks.

2. Check the content ratings and the reviews from other users
There are millions of apps available on Google’s Play Store, Apple’s Store, Amazon’s Appstore, Windows Store, Blackberry World etc. and this might make the choice of which apps to download rather daunting.
Ratings and reviews from other users can highlight the quality of an app, unsafe content or performance.

3. Pay attention to permissions
Always read the permission requests you are prompted when installing an app before accepting them. For example it is normal for a maps app to request permission to access your location, but there are instances when some apps request more permission than what is strictly necessary.

4. Treat your phone like your wallet
And don’t enter your phone number freely unless you know how it will be used.
Remember to set a passcode to your device, keep the security factory settings of the phone and log out of password protected services (e.g.: mobile banking, email accounts etc.)

5. In-app purchases
Some apps, whether free or paid for, can charge for options whether it’s upping your level in a competition or enhancing your subscription to a service; these costs are charged to your phone bill. In order to help people avoid bill shock Ofcom has created video demos on how to control in-app billing from the operating system.

6. Erase the data 
If you decide to sell, give away or discard your mobile device erase the data to make sure your personal information won’t be used by anyone else.

7. Check your phone bill
To see if there are any strange numbers charging premium rates for calls or text messages you are not aware of. 

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