Is an app free if it sells your information? David Hatter - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Is an app free if it sells your information?

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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

The "app economy", which includes Facebook as well as smartphone apps, is estimated to have generated $US20 billion in revenue in 2011 by selling downloads, advertising, "virtual goods" and other products, according to estimates from Rubinson Partners, a market researcher.

Apps are required to ask people's permission to access their Facebook data.

But the way they ask plays on a fundamental human tendency - namely, that people who see frequent warnings come to disregard them.

Science has a word for this: habituation. Habituation occurs when people become accustomed to simply pressing the "yes" button when faced with an alert or warning.

"If people see a warning a lot, but then nothing bad happens in the average case, it decreases the alarm level" and people won't pay attention even when they need to, said Adrienne Porter Felt, a Ph.D. student in computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied requests for personal data by apps on smartphones. 

A case in point came just this past week, in a scandal involving an iPhone app called "Girls Around Me".

The app used publicly available information from Foursquare, a location-based social network, to enable men to locate nearby women on a map and view the personal data and photos from their Facebook profiles.

Read more about privacy and the app economy in these tech articles: 

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