Smartphones have become—for lack of a better term—even smarter in recent years. The term once just applied to a cellular handset that could access the internet, but now many users are forgoing a portable computer because their smartphones are as capable as any other device.
One of the initial drawbacks in the early days of smartphones, however, was the black hole of privacy flaws. From automatic geotagging in photographs to the lack of antivirus protection, a smartphone was the perfect tool to do the dirty work for the criminals.
Now, with each new model and new update to some of the most popular smartphones on the market, your privacy is a whole lot more secure…if you know how to protect it, that is.
One of the chief problems is in the default global access settings. Most phone manufacturers and operating systems are set in such a way that you have to revoke permission to your personal information, rather than grant that permission. If you don’t manually turn off access to your photographs, your social media accounts, and even your phone’s flashlight, you may be leaving the door wide open for anyone to sneak in.
So where do you find these settings? Let’s start with Apple, who’s long been known for a focus on privacy and security. In most of the newer iPhones, you can go to the Settings app and scroll down to the Privacy bar. Within this folder, you can see which apps you have on your phone, and what they’re able to access, like your photos or your microphone. This is where you’ll make those changes and revoke or grant access, but remember that some apps won’t function the way they were intended without this access. You can always go back in and change it later if that’s a problem.
In this same menu, it’s a good idea to revoke access to your Location Settings to any apps that don’t actually need it (why does your recipe app need to know where you’re standing?). Under the Location Settings, you can tell each different app what location information it can have. You can set it to Never, While Using, and Always, depending on what app it is and what it needs to know.
If you’re an Android user—and chances are very good that you’re running Android on your phone if it’s not an iPhone—then you have some privacy settings to look for as well. In your Settings menu, you can actually turn on or off the option to see your location, and the option for your phone to track your location history for an improved search experience. You have the additional option of selecting whether you want your phone to use wifi connections, cell phone towers, and even satellite GPS to follow you.
Google has also built-in the option to tell advertisers not to track you based on your location or your internet searches on your phone. While this tracking ID was created to make sure that ads you see are actually relevant, such as not bothering you with ads for a store you don’t even have in your area, some people don’t like the idea of having their everyday activities being used for marketing purposes.
Of course, one of the most secure smartphone tactics you can use is to install a VPN on your phone. This stands for virtual private network, is like a tunnel that lets you onto the internet without others being able to see what you’re doing. It’s probably an overkill security measure for many consumers’ day-to-day phone use; but if you ever do anything sensitive like access your online banking or use your college’s app to enter information or check your grades, it’s a good way to keep prying eyes out of your smartphone.
There’s something important to keep in mind about privacy settings in your phone: if your phone is ever lost or stolen, or worse, if a family member is ever missing and has their phone with them, the phone cannot be located if you’ve revoked the tracking app’s access to the location. Be sure to keep “find my phone” activated in order to be able to call up the phone’s location on a computer.
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