One day, at the beginning of spring, Grasshopper and Ant each got a new smartphone. They both chose the same make and model. They even had the same cell carrier with the same data plan. The only difference, apart from Grasshopper being of the order Orthoptera and Ant being of the order Hymenoptera, was their general attitude towards security in general and app permissions in particular.
Ant was very security-conscious. He switched off his GPS and other location services, activating them only when he needed them, and then turned them off again right away. When he loaded an app, he read carefully over what permissions it required. Any game, for example, that needed access to his contacts list was right out, as were other apps that seemed to need access to data that seemed unrelated to the primary function of the app. As a result, Ant did not have many apps on his smartphone. He did load quite a lot of music and ebooks on his phone for entertainment, but refused even to install Facebook or Twitter. He was just that kind of guy.
Grasshopper, on the other hand, loaded all kinds of games and apps on his phone. He didn’t care what permissions they wanted, he would load them up. He would load them up, use them for a while, and then forget about them and load more apps. Ant thought Grasshopper was out of control. Grasshopper thought Ant was a party pooper.
It may not surprise you, dear reader, to discover that Ant also checked his credit card statements regularly while Grasshopper had a more carefree attitude towards personal finance.
At any rate, all through the spring and summer and into the fall, Grasshopper combined hundreds and thousands of shapes into rows of three or more, built up digital armies and empires, and used every emoji that he could find. Ant, meanwhile, kept to his books and his music.
As the first snow of winter fell to the ground, Grasshopper got a letter in the mail that many of his credit cards had been maxed out. Grasshopper didn’t think that he’d made that many in-game purchases, so he checked over his recent statements in greater detail. He was shocked to discover a number of very large purchases on his account for goods that he had never received. Not knowing what to do, he went to Ant’s house and begged Ant for a few scraps of food to tide him over through the winter, for he had no means to purchase provisions, what with his maxed-out cards.
Ant chided Grasshopper, “I’ll give you nothing, foolish Grasshopper!”
Grasshopper felt like a melting snowflake. “That’s a bit harsh, Ant. Where is your pity? Your sense of charity?”
Ant growled on, “Look, those are obviously fraudulent charges on your accounts. Just call the credit company and have them removed. You’ll have to cancel all your cards, but-”
“Oh! Whatever will I do without credit cards?”
“Well, you could let me finish my sentences, for a start. As I was saying, cancel the cards, BUT you will get new ones in a few days. That’s how it works out. It’s possible that the charges were just simple fraud from one of your apps being a front for bandits or from you not using secure sites for purchases.”
Grasshopper began to dance a little. “Why, that is marvelous news! All will be well!”
“Quit interrupting me. And you could stand to be a little less manic-depressive, if possible. All will not be well if this is part of an identity theft. There have been a number of major breaches of late, and I’m sure at least one of the million apps you’ve downloaded was a headline. You should get a credit report and see if any accounts in your name have been opened up recently – and if those accounts also have maxed out cards. Then there’s a follow up with the IRS to see if someone files a fraudulent tax return in your name, to get a government refund sent to them. That’s just the start, really.”
Grasshopper was silent.
Ant said, “I’m done. You won’t interrupt me if you say something now, if-”
“Oh! Goodness! Identity theft! Whatever shall I do? Please, brother Ant, do you have an identity I can borrow to see me through the cold of the winter?”
“It doesn’t work that way, Grasshopper. I recommend you check out articles on what to do if you’re a victim of identity theft.”
“Why can’t you tell me more, O wise Ant?”
“Because I’ve never had my identity stolen! I don’t know what else to do, as I’ve never had to know!”
“Why haven’t you had your identity stolen?”
“Well, for starters, I’m careful about the apps I load on my phone. Now, do you mind? I’m with people, here.”
Grasshopper bid farewell and trudged home, sadder but wiser. One by one, he started to uninstall all his apps and vowed to never again blithely install a game that needed access to his web history, contacts, location, calendar, phone records, media folders, and core OS files.