Limiting your financial exposure in apps

To wrap up this series on using your new digital-world tool such as a tablet or a smartphone that you may have received over the holidays, I want to tie up loose ends.

Although many things, including “apps” you use on your new device, are promoted as being free, we should recognize that there is no such thing as a free lunch in the digital world either.

You may have heard the phrase “if you are not paying for the product, you are the product” used often in reference to the free products such as apps and services like email in recent years. Frankly, I thought it was such an appropriate phrase born to describe the utility of internet but a student in our program for seniors reminded me that it was first used in the early 1970s to describe the efficacy of television advertisements. To this day, for example, you can imagine why advertisers will pay millions of dollars for a 30-second advertising spot during the Super Bowl game!

Just like cable television systems piped entertaining programs supported by advertisements into our living rooms, internet – aka the cloud – followed suit. As I always say, internet is a double-edged sword but I believe the benefits outweigh the negatives.

A pet peeve of mine is the practice where they ask you to register a payment method (credit card, PayPal, etc.) even when you use only free apps on your device. Google, for example, will randomly ask you to register a payment method when downloading apps from their Play Store (in the Apple ecosystem, they call it the App Store). FYI, if you look closely at the options presented, there is a word “Skip” to continue on your merry way without registering your credit card or PayPal account.

Free apps supported by advertisements usually follow the “freemium” business model. They are “free” to download and use but with the nagging advertisements. If you are like me though, you come across an app that you truly enjoy and will be happy to get rid of the ads by paying a "premium." But Google and Apple do not take your cold, hard cash. Does that mean you have to register your credit card?

No! I recommend buying a gift card for Google's Play Store or Apple's App Store/iTunes so you can register the gift card instead as your payment method. The major benefit of registering a gift card is that your exposure is whatever you have left on your gift card. Wouldn’t you, too, prefer that the nefarious can only ring up the value of the card instead of charging up to your credit card limit?

Limiting exposure by using a gift card instead of other high-limit payment methods will also work for the non-nefarious act such as grandkids who don't know better that buying special add-ons to their gaming characters cost money.

Tak Sato

Strategist and technologist with almost 30 years of experience in the private sector. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and Executive MBA from Cleveland State University.

As Founder of the Center for Aging in the Digital World, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit empowering seniors with digital literacy, Tak connects the dots to help people utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

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Volume 11, Issue 3, Posted 9:51 AM, 02.05.2019