Android and privacy have long had a shaky partnership, but it’s still possible to enhance your privacy. Since Google is primarily an advertising company, their entire business model relies on collecting user data and selling ads based on that data. Even services like Google Now, or the Google Assistant announced at Google I/O 2016 require Google to know everything about you for the tools to work efficiently.
The open nature of Android is both a boon and a curse, but keep in mind that it’s possible to use Android without giving everything up to Google. It just requires a little knowledge, and that’s where we come in. Recently we had a brief article about Google and user privacy – and now we’ll dive into the settings with you, show you helpful apps to install and reclaim your right to privacy. Let’s get started.
- If your smartphone supports it, turn on device encryption. Aside from passwords, encryption is also high on the privacy list. You might ask yourself: “Why should I encrypt? I have nothing to hide.” Whether you do have something to hide or not, protecting your data from malicious third parties using encryption is something that everyone should do. You can find it by going into Settings > Security > Encrypt Device, and follow the onscreen prompts.
- Third, turn off Cloud Backup. Although your data is safe with Google, the company may be legally required to hand over your data to law enforcement if asked to do so. With settings like this, it’s important to keep in mind that users most often trade convenience for privacy. With cloud backup turned off, your apps, device settings, and other data will be lost if you lose your phone. You can find this by going to Settings > Backup & Reset > Back up my data, and switch the toggle off.
- Fourth, you can choose to opt-out of targeted ads. You’ll still see ads of course unless you use an ad blocker, but the ads won’t be tailored to your personal preferences that Google and other advertisers have learned about you. Go to Google Settings > Ads > Opt out of interest-based ads.
- Fifth, turn off location tracking. You can either disable it app-by-app or turn it off altogether. Neither your phone nor Google will remember where you’ve been anymore. Go to Settings > Location. In Location, you can disable both Google Location History and Delete Location History.
- Next is a setting that some people might overlook, but it’s necessary for your security. You can change the screen timeout option, so that if you’re not using your phone, the screen will automatically turn itself off after a certain amount of time. Depending on your preference, you can set it to the shortest possible setting, which is 15 seconds, or experiment with longer settings like one or two minutes. I don’t recommend setting it higher than two minutes. Go to Settings > Display > Sleep.
- In combination with sleep settings, you can set your device to lock itself automatically when the screen shuts off, and when you turn it back on you’ll have to enter your passcode. Go to Settings > Security, and make sure Automatically Lock is set to Immediately.
- In case you lose your phone, you don’t want someone picking it up and trying to guess the password a bunch of times. This method is called a brute-force attack, and you can prevent it by ensuring your phone is wiped after 10 passcode attempts. Go to Settings > Security > Automatically Wipe.
Apps To Download
Next, we’ll take a look at some apps to use.
- Password Managers – At the top of any privacy list is to use strong passwords. There are many password managers available that make creating strong passwords a breeze. Some examples of password managers are 1Password, Dashlane, and Lastpass. There are much more, but these seem to be the top three.
- DuckDuckGo – This is a search engine that you can use instead of Google or Bing. DuckDuckGo keeps your searches private and respects the user. You can download it here.
- Signal Private Messenger – This app lets you send encrypted SMS messages to anyone, even if they don’t use the same app. Developed by Open Whisper Systems, this app along with its iOS counterpart have been given the “seal of approval” by none other than Edward Snowden. You can download the app here.
- Orbot – If you’re not familiar with Tor, it’s a specialized browser that lets you anonymously use the web. Its Android counterpart Orbot allows you to do the same on your phone.
- Applock – This app allows you to lock down apps so they can only be accessed with a passcode. Users can even lock settings and incoming calls. Use this app if you frequently share your phone with others. Download it here.
- Protonmail – This is an app made by developers from Sweden. It gives you a secure, encrypted email account, and since your data is stored overseas, it’s harder for government agencies to access it. Download it here.
- Authy – this app is useful if you use 2-factor authentication on your online accounts (which is recommended.) It pairs with each service to generate shortcodes that you must enter before you can log into an account. The codes change every 20-30 seconds, which makes it harder for hackers to break into your accounts. Download it here.
This article only covers the basics of privacy and security, but it should give you a great head start into locking down your Android phone. Remember: if a service is free, then you’re the product being sold.