We all rely on our smartphones. Whether it’s messaging friends, checking our bank accounts, shopping, storing important documents, or looking up directions to a restaurant, our pocket-sized devices are vital.
While all this convenience is a luxury we have had for barely a decade, it’s important we take care of that information.
Android has developed various privacy-friendly features of the past few years, but Google doesn’t always make it clear how we should make the best use of them. Let us take you through some of the best ways to protect data on an Android smartphone.
Secure Your Lock ScreenYour lock screen is the first line of defense to protect your phone. Smartphones store some of our most personal information, from where we live, who we message, to our emails, and private documents. As such, it’s important that you protect the lockscreen, which can prevent access by unauthorized people and apps.
To setup your Lock Screen protection, navigate to Settings > Security > Screen Lock. You have the option of choosing to secure your device with a password, pin code or pattern unlock.For those of you lucky enough to have a fingerprint scanner built into your phone you can also use your fingerprint as a form of biometric security.
Encrypt Your PhoneWhen you encrypt your device you make the information on it unreadable – until it is unlocked. This means that if your phone is lost or stolen, your information is safe.
To enable encryption navigate to Settings > Security > Encryption. Turning on encryption also forces you to set a lock screen protection, further improving your defense against shady people trying to gain access to your data.
Stop Giving Away Your LocationOne of the most useful and yet also most intimate bits of data collected by your phone is your location. It can be used legitimately by apps like Google Maps or Waze, but could also be used as a means to track your every move.
Of course, you don’t have to have location turned on, but if you do turn it off you lose a whole range of really great features. The compromise is changing how granular your location tracking should be.
The “high accuracy” location mode is the most detailed location information. If you decide that you are more comfortable with a more approximate location, then dive into Settings > Location and change the type of location between High accuracy, Battery saving and Device only.
If you spot an app that is accessing your location when you don’t want it to, from Android 6.0 and above you can toggle individual permissions for each app, so you can prevent the app from accessing your location.
Change Your Ad SettingsIt’s an undeniable truth that to get free content we need adverts; it’s how many of your favorite apps survive on the Play Store. There is an important setting you can change though — “interest-based advertising”.
To opt-out of interest-based advertising simply head to Settings > Google > Ads and toggle the setting On.
Interest-based ads use a profile of you (usually information like location, gender, age range, what sites you visit) to customize your in-app ads. If you don’t want these ad networks building a profile of you from your device information, head into your settings to opt-out.
Don’t Install Apps From Outside The Play StoreYou’ve probably used the Play Store to install apps, as it’s bundled as standard with Google-approved Android devices. The Play Store is certainly the largest app store for Android but others are out there, along with apps not listed on any app store.
Sometimes, though, you need an app that isn’t included in the Play Store, and as long as you trust the source of this app it should be no problem. But if you change the setting to allow installation of apps from unknown sources, then you could be exposing yourself to security risks, as well as rogue apps looking for data to steal.
To change this setting go to Settings > Security and you can toggle Unknown Sources on and off.
In most cases you won’t need to install apps from outside the Play Store (except if you want Amazon’s various apps), so make sure to keep this setting turned off.
Control Those Pesky App PermissionsFor a long time Android lagged behind iOS in allowing you to manage the permissions granted to each app. On iOS you can switch individual permissions on and off for each app. Thankfully, with the release of Android 6.0 Marshmallow, you can now do the same on Android.
To access the App Permissions settings, on your Android device go to Settings > Apps, tap on the cog icon to Configure Apps > App Permissions where you will find a list of each permission. Alternatively, if you know the app you want to change permissions for, just head to Settings > Apps > [App Name] > Permissions.
Some apps have been designed to use this new permissions management system and will ask for access to a service when it is needed. Older apps do still have the option to change permissions, however, since they weren’t developed with that option in mind, turning permissions off may cause older apps to become unstable.
Remove The Ads – Go PremiumAdvertisers love building a profile of you. It helps them to target custom ads at you, and generates additional ad revenue. Although you can opt-out using the Android system, to try and remove advertisers from your life you can also go premium.
Developers need to make money in order to continue supporting their apps and there are three ways they can monetize them; first, most obviously, is ad-supported; also popular is freemium, where some features are free and you pay for additional features; and there’s premium, where you purchase the app.
So support the developer, and remove ads at the same time by purchasing the software.
Don’t Have Your Head In The CloudThe allure of cloud backup is hard to resist. If you’ve ever had to reset a phone, or set up a new device, you know how much easier it is when all your settings, app preferences, passwords and customizations are synced to the cloud, ready and waiting for you.
However, if you are keen on protecting your privacy, consider that although you may have gone through all the steps to protect your account (strong unique passwords, two factor authentication), once it’s on the internet someone, somewhere, may be able to access it, be it a company, a hacker or even the government.
To turn off your phone’s backup feature head to Settings > Backup & reset and turn Back up my data to Off.
As with most privacy related decisions this one comes down to trade-off between privacy and convenience.
Do Your ResearchThere’s some suggestion that Google doesn’t patrol the Play Store as vigorously as Apple does with the App Store, so you should be cautious when installing an app for the first time, especially a less well-known one.
Before you install, give the app a critical eye and consider:
- Number of downloads. If the number seems smaller than you would imagine, it could be a scam app.
- Permissions. It’s a good idea not to install something on your phone if you don’t feel comfortable with the permissions it’s requesting. Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) helped with this by allowing you to toggle individual permissions — although doing this can break some features in the app.
- Use PrivacyGrade. A team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have analyzed apps and given them a rating based on how seriously they take privacy. Take a look at their website to dig into the data.
- Use BitDefender Clueful. Security software provider BitDefender released an app called Clueful that analyzes the apps installed on your phone, and shows you information about what permissions they use, as well as what websites they send data to.