Managing your privacy in the age of smartphones

Privacy has become a most discussed keyword in recent days. With technology becoming an integral part of our life, the amount of data we share with the tech companies is immense. The data ranges from where we live to what time we get up to who we met at what location to what we ate for breakfast. The implication of this data is huge because most of it is private and many of us will not like to discuss it in open forum most of the times. So why do tech companies need to know so much about us? They need it because they want to show us relevant advertisements.

However, many believe that the data collected from us transcends beyond the simple advertising usage. It goes to the extent of voyeurism and gives enormous power to a company’s hand. This can be misused at any point of time. There had been multiple conspiracy theories in recent days on how such data had been used by a foreign country to rig elections in another democratic country. There had also been conspiracy theories on how Govt. agencies in certain countries use the data to spy on citizens’ activities or track dissent. So, it is necessary to understand how much data you allow to be tracked about yourself. And the good news is, with a little knowledge you can save a lot of trouble for yourself.

In this article, we talk about some basic settings on your android phone that are easy to do and saves you from the trouble of sharing unnecessary data with the tech giants. Remember, not all tracking is bad. So we will focus on only the unnecessary ones. Here we go.

Disable Location History and Tracking

While Google map has become a very useful tool for our daily navigation, very few people actually knows that Google stores your entire travel data with time stamp. This means that they know where you visited, when and which route you took. You can go to Google Maps -> Your Timeline. This, we feel, is highly intrusive and unnecessary. Why will someone need to store data about our travel history and what do we, as users, gain anything out of it? So, our first suggestion will be to turn of the location history settings in Google. Do note, this is not about turning off the location setting on your phone. It is about disabling a setting that doesn’t allow Google to store history of your travel. Keep in mind that turning off Location History comes with some minor disadvantages: Your timeline in Google Maps won’t update anymore, your Google Assistant will lose some capabilities, and your automatic commuting notifications will stop appearing.

Turn off location settings of various Apps

Not all permissions are bad. Some Apps when they have location access performs much better, for example, UBER. However, there is no reason why these Apps need to know your location all the time. The new Android 10 gives this functionality where you can choose on when to allow an app to have your location access. Go to Settings -> apps & notifications -> Permissions manager -> Location. There, you’ll find a list of all apps installed on your phone. You can individually set limits for each by choosing a tier: Allowed all the time, allowed only while in use, or denied. We will suggest ‘allow only while in use’. This will not hurt functionalities of any App and at the same time save you from another unnecessary data privacy breach.

Keep your phone software up to date

We often get software updates on our phone. Many people do not understand the importance of such updates. It is necessary to keep your phone updated with the latest software in order to protect it from any unnecessary data theft or phone hacking.

If you don’t keep your phone updated, you are opening yourself up to vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers to steal your data. In Android, you can update your software at any time by going to Settings > About Phone > System Update.

Use a secure Email

Most of us will be shaken up if we are told that someone else will read our Emails. Emails are a private space. While we understand the importance of having a secured email password, we do not consider the fact that Email providers like Google can read our emails like Gmail.

If you are uncomfortable with that, there are plenty of secure (and private) email providers out there. For example, you can check out something like ProtonMail. They use encryption to keep your emails private when they are in transit, and zero-access encryption to secure your data at rest. As a result, no one but you can access your messages, not even the email provider. It is also quite easy to transfer your data from Gmail using the ProtonMail Import-Export application.

Use a secured Chat Application

A lot has been discussed in recent days about how WhatsApp’s new privacy policy will hurt our data protection. Thousands of users have made it a choice to move away from WhatsApp and start using an App with better secured Apps like Signal. Signals promise to not store any data about your chats or the files you transfer. Thatways it is more privacy friendly and safe.

Give up on your phones default browser or Chrome Browser

Your phone browsers store a lot of data about which sites you visit and what you read. While this may seem apparently a small issue but it is not a comfortable thought to know that someone is tracking all your browsing habits. In fact latest technologies can suggest you content and advertising as per your browsing habits, thereby gradually manipulating your choices little by little. Using a secured browser can solve this problem. Choose browser like Duck Duck Go which is more secured and respects your privacy.

Be careful about Facebook’s Privacy settings

Facebook is the most popular app on all phones. Facebook collects a lot of data about you when you’re not even on Facebook. The first thing we suggest is turn off location for Facebook. For a social media App like Facebook, we do not see a need to give location access to the company.

Tap the icon with the three lines in the top right > Settings & Privacy > Privacy Shortcuts > Manage your location settings > Location Access. Switch the toggle for Background Location to Off. The second thing we suggest is turn off your social media profile from appearing in Google search results. Go to Settings > Privacy > “Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile?” > Edit > Click the check box on the bottom > Turn Off.

Like we said earlier, not all permissions or data sharing are bad. But in an age where data can easily be misused and in a time when we store all datas on our phone, it is necessary to be a little careful about how we protect this data and thereby protect ourselves. Will some simple steps we can create a much better data protection ecosystem for ourselves and get saved from any future trouble of being tracked and manipulated by any third parties – something that is increasingly becoming important in the world.