Clueful Privacy Advisor (for Android) review

Clueful provides helpful "clues" about Android app activity and potential security risks intended to let you decide whether an app is worth keeping or not.
Photo of Clueful Privacy Advisor (for Android)

Malware is the big bad boogeyman [of Android, but a far more common problem happens to be apps that just ask for a few too many permissions. In the worst case, malicious apps can take advantage of SMS permissions to send premium messages and sign you up for unwanted services. In other scenarios, you might just not want to own a game that wants access to your address book.

Clueful (free, Google Play) from Bitdefender, aims to keep you informed about your app permissions by classifying them by security risk and giving you an overall privacy score. The higher your score, the closer you are to security perfection.

Easy to Use
When you launch Clueful, the app quickly scans the apps on your device and returns your privacy score. Mine was a surprisingly low 56 out of a possible 100, mostly because of the 15 apps Clueful classified as a “moderately risk.” A button at the top of the screen lets you filter by specific types of risks (like “are viruses”) or sort apps by level of risk from the tabs on the bottom of the screen.

The important stuff is on the pages for individual apps, where Clueful provides what it calls “clues” about what the apps are doing and why it might be dangerous. You can remove an app by tapping the uninstall button. There’s also a sharing button that will either read Like! or Dislike! depending on how many issues Clueful has with the app. It’s cute, but it’s mostly an ad for Clueful pushed out via the sharing service of your choice.

You’ll probably be surprised by some of the results. For instance, I had no idea that Polaris Office could make calls or send SMS messages. Frankly, that worries me a little bit. Other apps, like Viber, need SMS or call permissions, but Clueful still lists them as potentially risky.

While not really anti-malware software, Clueful will keep a watchful eye on all your new apps. When I installed a suspicious app, Clueful immediately pushed a message to the notification tray.

Hard to Master
The problem with Clueful is that you might not feel like you have enough information to make a decision about keeping or uninstalling an app. In the case of Vine, it vaguely warns that the app can read my contacts. “Many apps have legitimate reasons to do so,” it says. “Others do not.” Below, it warns that Vine uploads my device ID to a specific Web address (data.flurr.com), but I’m not sure what that means.

And to be clear, this is a problem isn’t unique to Clueful but exists in just about every security advisor app. You’ll probably have to do some Google searching to find out more about the risks that advisor apps flag.

The way it’s currently designed, Clueful seems to encourage you to seek alternatives to apps that could be leaking your personal information. For instance, now that I know Polaris Office has SMS permissions, maybe I should find an office suite which doesn’t.

However, that rules out the possibility that I’ve weighed my options and have decided to trust a particular app. With Clueful, I can’t raise my score if I’ve decided to stick with Polaris Office. Bitdefender didn’t include an ignore button, a tactic used by other security suites like avast!.

This is especially odd since the app calls the app information it provides “clues,” implying that we should solve the mystery ourselves. Though security is its own reward, when you do the research and make an informed decision to keep an app, Clueful doesn’t reward you.

Admittedly the permissions information is the most important part of the app, and the security score doesn’t really matter. However, the score does reinforce the idea that there is some kind of platonic ideal of digital privacy which I suspect can only be attained by forsaking all digital technology and living in a hole.

A Dedicated Tool
Bitdefender offers a number of security apps like Clueful that do specific tasks at different price points. Think of it as security ala care. As a result, Clueful feels a little thin compared to free security apps like TrustGo or paid apps like our Editors’ Choice Bitdefender Mobile Security & Antivirus.

While Clueful is useful, I’d like to see it provide a little more context. Individual comments about each app that go further than the automated warnings Clueful currently has would go a long way toward guiding users to an informed decision. An ignore button could make the app more responsive, but may muddy the idea of maintaining digital privacy.

With that in mind, Clueful feels like a tool for those uninitiated in security; a gateway to higher levels of understanding (or paranoia, take your pick). If you’re already hip to security, stick with a full-featured Android suite. If you’re more interested in getting specific security features, or just an easy way to keep grandma’s phone stays safe, take a clue from Clueful.

Specifications
Type Personal
Free Yes

Verdict
Clueful provides helpful "clues" about Android app activity and potential security risks intended to let you decide whether an app is worth keeping or not.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc