With all the attention and media coverage that Apple gains for its iPhones and iPads, it’s easy to forget that Apple is actually the number two product in its field. The iOS operating system that runs those devices comes in second place to the Android operating system, which can be found on everything from Kindle Fire tablets to Windows phones.
The numbers from just last year were staggering; a 2015 report found that the number of Android devices sold in a year finally topped one billion the year before, up from just 780 million or so in 2013. But yet, we still see so much information about privacy settings and device security for iPhones when the truth of the matter is more people are carrying around an Android device in their pockets.
So here’s a quick breakdown of some of the most important settings you should be aware of for securing your Android device—and therefore, your privacy.
- Set a passcode – Your phone—no matter which brand or model—is like a tiny computer. It contains so much information about you and your loved ones, from photos to messages to the GPS coordinates to where you live and work. Smartphones contain so much personal, sensitive information, in fact, that the US Supreme Court ruled it has the same “search and seizure” privacy protections as your house. That means you’ve got to protect it. But if your smartphone is lost or stolen, what are you handing over to a thief? Without a strong passcode to unlock it, you’re giving a criminal access to everything: your images, your address, your email account, your finances, and even your identity.
- Put it to sleep – It’s a hassle to have to unlock your phone every time you want to use it, and that’s why some people set their phones to never go to sleep on their own. Not only does this use your battery a little faster, it leaves your phone vulnerable if someone pickpockets it or if you leave it on a store counter and walk away. You can choose how quickly your phone locks itself after not being used, but don’t be tempted to set it for the longest possible time (sometimes five minutes or more). Instead, picking a relatively fast number—say, thirty seconds—will make your phone more secure in the event that it goes missing. However, don’t be fooled into thinking a sleeping phone is now a secured phone. You must also activate the setting that tells it to require the passcode upon “waking up,” or a thief can simply wake it and use it.
- Turn off ad-tracking – There’s a setting in Android that lets you opt out of having your internet use tracked. It might not seem like a big deal; after all, advertising is what helps websites afford to stay in operation, like some of our favorite sites that we don’t have to pay to use. But having your internet activity tracked for advertising purposes can clue in a cybercriminal about your lifestyle, your family makeup, even your likelihood of having good credit. By not letting the operating system keep up with what you read and search on your phone, you’re keeping prying eyes from establishing a profile of you.
- Adjust your location settings – Like other operating systems, Android will track your location as you use your phone. You don’t want to go so far as to not be able to find your lost or stolen phone by having your location completely shut off, but you do want to adjust it to the most secure setting possible. This will prevent GPS coordinates from being embedded in your photographs, prevent social media sites from announcing your location when you post, and more.
- Third-party app protections – This is perhaps one of the most important security settings you can enact. Apple has been both criticized and applauded for its tight control of its app store, meaning anyone who creates an app for an iPhone or iPad must submit it for quality control and approval from Apple. Android, however, doesn’t hold those same restrictions, meaning it’s possible to purchase an app from the Google Play store that hasn’t been checked for malware or other malicious code.That means it’s far too easy to “sneak in” something harmful or malicious, like an app that is secretly stealing all of your sensitive information. In order to protect yourself, activate the setting that prevents any third-party app installation from “Unknown Sources.”
Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.