Back in 2013 an app called 'Cartoon HD' caused a stir but was pulled from Apple's App Store. Now a plethora of copycat apps and websites have been launched, but are they safe? We explain what Cartoon HD is, and steps you should take to protect yourself when using similar apps or websites. Read next: Best media streamers of 2016

What is Cartoon HD?

Cartoon HD made waves by offering users free access to popular TV shows like Game of Thrones and even full length feature films including box office hits back in 2014. The original iOS app was available for free on the App Store, but unsurprisingly Apple removed the app from the iOS App Store since it was providing illegal copyrighted content. All the content from the app was then transferred to a website, which is still running to this day and provides a 'safer' way to browse its collection. 

Whether Cartoon HD was doing anything malicious in its app is unclear, but as a rule of thumb, you should always be weary about downloading, installing and using these apps, especially if they're apps instead of web-based apps (like the new Cartoon HD) and especially if you're running Android.

Pirated content streaming apps: Are they safe?

If you search the Google Play store for 'Cartoon HD' many Android apps appear in the results fighting for your attention. Descriptions will no doubt state that the app is legitimate and collecting content from YouTube and public domain websites – but a description isn't necessarily the truth. Are Cartoon HD alternatives safe?

User reviews and ratings are also likely to make the app look appealing, however these are likely to be fake or from users who simply don't know what they're talking about.

Many of these apps will be cashing in by way of adverts, if you don't mind then that's fine and things could well be above board. They might also want in-app payments for content which again is ok if done properly. As a rule of thumb, don't enter any credit card or bank details into an app if requested. Only pay for in-app items via the Google Play store.

However, more mischievous developers might try to collect your personal data. They will want to sell this information on for profit – you might not think it but your information is very valuable. When you click 'Install' on an app, a box will appear showing you what permissions it requires before you then accept. Read these carefully before you take the plunge as they can be a giveaway as to what's really going on.

Cartoon HD app permission

Apps will typically need to have network access (to stream the content) and the ability to stop your screen turning off – that's normal and necessary. However, a video streaming app which asks to read your web bookmarks and history and to find accounts on your device is somewhat more suspicious.

Tony Anscombe, senior security evangelist at AVG said: "It's important that people read the permissions approval process before simply clicking 'Yes' and regularly check the settings and T&Cs of apps to see what data is being held or what can be accessed by the service provider. A little common sense goes a long way when approving these permissions – after all, does that flash light app really need access to your contacts?"

The bottom line is that if not sure about an app, then don't download it. If there's something which seems a bit fishy then the app is probably too good to be true.

Read next: How to get US Netflix in the UK

Alternatives to Cartoon HD

If you're looking for alternatives to the Cartoon HD app then there are plenty out there. One which springs to mind is Popcorn Time. Others included 'Free movies and TV shows' and 'Flixanity' depending on what platform you're using. Of course, the Cartoon HD website supports most platforms including iOS, Android, and even the PS4 browser, and being a website opposed to an installed app makes it a lot harder for any of your personal information to be stolen. 

If you're not looking for free and potentially dodgy apps then there are many decent and legitimate streaming services to choose from. You should consider Netflix, BlinkBox, Flixter, Wuaki TV and, of course, Google Play Movies & TV.

Read: Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video comparison review: What's the best streaming service?