Rumor has it that Santa was hacked while playing Reindeer Smash (his new favorite game) — but it could have been anything he downloaded on his various devices. While some mobile hacks indicate something malicious up front, others are more under-the-radar, secretly tracking your location, your web-browsing habits, and even offering up unwanted ads. These smartphone apps, known as “grayware,” may look nice at first, but soon reveal themselves to be naughty.
Watch this video to see how Santa is handling getting hacked — not well, as it turns out; Old St. Nick really should lay off double-fisting cookies — and read on below for 8 classes of mobile apps that deserve a spot on the Naughty List.
- The Secret Agent — These apps pretend to be one thing — a game, a calculator, a daily planner — while in reality they are spying on you in the background. A few years ago, more than 20 Secret Agents were pulled from app stores across platforms when it was found they contained hidden code that collected and reported your data. These apps are getting coal for life.
- The Constant Refresher — Is your smartphone’s battery always in the red? Maybe it’s from all those hours you spend swiping right... or maybe it’s because you’ve got a Constant Refresher draining your battery life. Be on the lookout for apps that perpetually need to refresh and reload themselves to keep emails and newsfeeds current. Switch them off until you need them.
- The Over-Advertiser — You’ve just purchased a brand-new game, or a life-hacking wonder-app, only to be bombarded by ads every time you open it. Where’s the fun in that? Steer clear of these apps that pretend to be nice and useful, only to show their true colors once they’re installed. If you have to click “no thanks” more than once per session... then no thanks.
- The Data Hogger — It’s one thing to pig out at the table on Christmas Eve, it’s another thing to pig out on data. But that’s just what the apps known as Data Hoggers do every time you open them. You wouldn’t let your cousin Meryl steal that last crescent roll, right? So why let a Data Hogger steal the last megabyte of your data? Put it on a diet, and send it to the Naughty List.
- The Imposter — If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Imposters are apps that are designed to resemble more famous, popular apps. But those who buy these knock-offs will be disappointed when they download an inferior product. Can’t believe that game that should cost $4.99 is only $.99? Check to see if that’s an awesome sale... or an awesome Imposter.
- The Broadcaster — Sure, you tell your friends where you’re hanging out later, you tell your loved ones when you’re heading out of town... but the Broadcaster is the kind of app that thinks everyone in a 50-mile radius should know that info, too. Stay away from apps that always request to share your location. Even NORAD doesn’t track Santa 100% of the time.
- The Money-Drainer — Plenty of apps are bad when it comes to money, but games have a terrible habit of constantly asking for it via in-app purchases. These apps are especially naughty when kids are playing them, who don’t know to ask for permission before buying an $80 power-up pack. Don’t give in to apps that won’t let you past level five without a dollar donation.
- The Nosy Neighbor — The Nosy Neighbor may seem innocuous at first. It goes about its business, offering up a fun or useful premise, but then all of a sudden it starts poking its nose into places where it doesn’t belong. Why does your recipe app need to access your contacts? Why does a game about blasting space aliens need to know your location? Bottom line: They don’t.
These sneaky apps definitely deserve a big fat lump of coal this holiday season. But you know what else is more blatantly dangerous? Leaving your smartphone unprotected. But fear not: Norton Security Premium comes equipped with App Advisor, which automatically lets you know about malware, privacy, and other risks before you download apps from Google Play.
Giaco Furino is a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn. He contributes frequently to VICE, The Creators Project, Rhapsody magazine, and more.