Just imagine for one second your life without a smartphone. Can you even imagine living one hour without your phone? Would you feel lost? Disoriented?
These days, we have access to so many amazing digital services on our phones that we cannot imagine our lives without them. First, there is the very addictive benefit of being always online. To be able to share every tiny detail of our daily life with the world. It could be a few sentences, a picture or even a video. Our smartphone is much more than just a social medium. This is our favorite way to order a taxi or a pizza, to schedule our future holidays or to check our bank account.
Smartphones have become an essential part of our life and as such are stuffed with private information that we must protect.
This article will walk you through a few tips and tricks to get your privacy on Android in control.
Tweak Your Android Settings!
Android is Google, Google is Android. We need to keep that in mind. Google wealth comes mainly from targeted ads. The tech giant thrives by ingesting private data. The more it knows you, the more powerful Google becomes.
So first, disable ad-tracking. Go to Settings –> Google –> Ads and Activate
“Opt out of Ads Personalization”
Set the app permission right
The Android app permission model allows you to define which system features each app can access. It is very important to review this access control and ensure that your apps have the right level of access.
Keep in mind that every single app as stupid and simple as it seems, has a cost, and app developers need to find a way to monetize it. Sometimes it comes with very obvious and flashy in-ads. But monetization can also be completely hidden. There have been several documented cases of flash light apps that basically always run in the background and capture user data, transmitting it to advertisers. Like a backdoor, a trojan horse hidden in your phone.
To change the app permissions:
- Open the main Settings app .
- Tap Apps or Application Manager (depending on your device, this may look different).
- Tap the app you want to update.
- Tap Permissions.
- Turn the permissions that are not required off
Google Activity History
Google likes tracking you so much. It is unbelievable the amount of data that Google collects by default: Web and App history, voice command, location history, Youtube search and Watch History.
To stop that, go to Settings > Google > Google Account > Data & Personalization and disable as much as you can.
Turn On Android Device Manager
Android Device Manager allows you to track your lost or missing device. It is also possible to wipe the device remotely if you suspect it has been stolen.
To ensure Android Device Manager is ON:
- Open the Settings app
- Tap on the ‘Google’ menu option
- Scroll down to ‘Security,’ then tap ‘Find My Device’
- Make sure the switch at the top is set to ‘On.’
Lock your screen!
That seems completely obvious but your smartphone contains your personal life. You cannot leave it on the open. You could lose your phone, you can forget it somewhere. It should not be possible to unlock it too easily.
Nowadays, Android OS offers you multiple methods to lock and unlock your smartphone. Password, PIN Number, Pattern Lock, Fingerprint, Facial recognition. Every method has its pros and cons, there is no ideal method.
If you choose Password, PIN Number or Pattern Lock, just make sure that the combination is not too easy to guess. Especially with Pattern Lock, people tend to go for a easy combination. Plus, you need to be careful that nobody watches you unlock your screen as it is quite easy to repeat.
Fingerprint, Voice and Facial recognition are more secured but present other issue. By using these methods, you are basically handing over biometric information to your smartphone and to Google. That is just another privacy leak.
Encrypt your device
Go to Settings > System > Security > Encrypt device and select Encrypt phone
The process can take a couple of hours to complete.
If your device uses an external SD card, you can also encrypt it. Go to Settings > System > Security > Encrypt external SD card > Enable
Use 2 Factor Authentication
2 Factor Authentication (2FA) is one of the best ways to secure your accounts. By using two authentication methods, it makes things much more complicated for cyber criminals.
Remember that your Google account is strongly tied up to your smartphone. As such, it is critical to secure it. To activate Google 2FA, go to this webpage and follow the steps.
You can choose between SMS verification, voice call verification or a token via Google Authenticator.
After it is setup, every time you try to access your Google account from one of your devices, it will require two factor authentication. You can make things a bit more flexible and tell Google to remember the device for 30 days. If you use this option, Google will only prompt you for 2 factor authentication every 30 days.
Lock down your browser and change your search engine
Your OS is not the only one to spy on you, your browser is pretty good at it as well. Browsers have become like an OS in an OS. They come with their own set of authentication, their applications or extensions. All these fancy features pretend to make your life easier but they also swallow a lot of your data to achieve this goal.
If you care about your privacy, avoid the stock browser, and avoid Google Chrome.
Mozilla Firefox Focus is an excellent choice to protect your online privacy. This minimalist browser automatically blocks a vast number of trackers and also acts as a content blocker. It is available for both Android and iOS.
Brave is a super fast and secure browser. The new browser, which is based on Chromium, also blocks trackers and ads very efficiently.
For your search engine, give up Google Search and pick DuckDuckGo. DDG looks just like Google but it is completely private, will not collect your data and therefore does not display any personalized results to you.
Use a password manager!
Your online privacy is protected by your passwords. A good password is complex, unique and fresh. But we are human. We are weak and lazy. There is no way we are going to remember all these complex passwords. And this is why we must use a password manager. And a good one.
I strongly recommend a free Android password manager called LastPass. And in fact I wrote about it. So take a look at my article Why everyone should use a password manager and start using LastPass now.
Install a personal VPN
No matter the device, you need a VPN. And a good one. VPN keeps your traffic secured and protected inside a tunnel that starts on your smartphone and ends in a remote and secured location. VPNs make sure no one can tap your communications and possibly capture them.
If you choose a VPN, make sure you use a good one. Don’t go for the free VPNs that are basically doing more harm than good. The free VPN business model is to monetize your data. That is definitely not the intention here.
I personally recommend three VPN solutions that I find excellent
If you want to read more about VPN, read my following articles: