The recent relaxation of federal regulations on data sharing has thrust cybersecurity back to the forefront of tech conversations. This regulatory rollback combined with major data breaches at large companies has consumers more concerned than ever about their digital safety. The cybersecurity app market is booming to keep up with the new demand for apps to keep consumers safe. There are plenty of apps that provide encrypted messaging, disguised phone numbers, secure password management, and easy-to-use virtual private networks (VPNs). As with any flooding of a market, it is more important than ever to have a keen eye on quality when shopping for an app.
The cybersecurity app market has become just as focused on the market share as any other app genre. With a new surge of potential customers arriving on the back of widespread data security fear, app developers are scrambling to get their products in front of users.
Both free and paid applications are included in the mass presentation of new cybersecurity options. Consumers should be wary and thoroughly review cybersecurity apps before downloading. While a free app is always tempting, it may be a better idea to invest in paid cybersecurity apps.
“Free App” is a Misnomer
It is a natural inclination to jump at an offer for a free app. As cybersecurity has become a hot-button issue, developers have raced to get products in front of consumers. This has led to a glut of choices available. With so many options and products, how can free be a bad thing?
Free apps are not truly free. It costs money to create them, maintain them, and keep them free. While they are free to download many things are happening behind the scenes to make the apps available for free downloading.
Essentially, there are two ways that an app is made available for free. The first is very straightforward. Large companies or app developers that are flush with cash produce the app and can support the cost of it with funds already available.
The second way to keep an app free to download is more complicated and lends itself to some potential pitfalls. Many free apps are made by developers who cannot afford to simply support them with cash in hand. Thus, they must come up with the funding somehow.
Who Pays for Free Apps?
If an app developer needs to come up with funding to support the app and those who made it, there are a few ways to go about fundraising. While not every fundraising effort leads to suspicious activities, some can result in questionable data protection behaviors. These behaviors should be considered when choosing between free and paid cybersecurity apps.
In many cases, apps offer the infamous “in-app purchases.” These can be purchases of add-ons or provide access to the full line of offerings in the app. While these in-app purchases provide some monetary benefit to developers, they are rarely enough to fund the entire production.
Another way the app developer can raise money is by adding advertisements to the app. This produces an income from the advertiser. Many of these apps offer the purchase of an “ad-free” environment, which also leads to income.
The final way to make money off a “free” app is where consumers should place their concern. Sales of personal data to third-parties is a popular way for apps to make money to support them being free to download.
Let’s examine the dangers and inequalities of a free versus paid app using the example of installing a VPN provider on Android. VPNs have become popular as they protect users on unsecured networks like public Wi-Fi. Downloading a VPN to mobile devices is a good idea to help protect the data being transmitted over networks.
The popularity of VPNs has led to many “free” downloads being made available to users. These free VPNs are markedly subpar to paid offerings and could even be considered unsafe for use. The quality of a free VPN often suffers due to limited connection points or data throttling.
Security can be an issue, which is a major problem given the purpose of a VPN. Many free VPNs use an outdated connection that is now considered insecure. Also, free VPN providers have been known to sell user data like activity logs to third parties. While not necessarily used nefariously, having information about web browsing being sold is undoubtedly a breach of privacy.
A paid app like a high-quality VPN will perform better and provide a safer digital environment. Consumers should strongly consider paying for any apps that will be relied on for cybersecurity.