The Privacy Risks of Your Smartphone – An Overview

Thief stealing data from smartphone

Perhaps no other tool in modern history has revolutionized our lives like the smartphone has. This handheld computer has replaced the camera, GPS, calculator, address book, and many other items. We now have unprecedented access to information at our fingertips. The very features that proved so useful can easily be turned against us by advertisers or hackers that invade our privacy, though. Several tools are available to help protect your privacy on your smartphone.

How Smartphones Invade Your Privacy

The smartphone fulfills so many functions that it’s hard for many of us to remember how we managed without one. Your phone goes everywhere with you. It is one of the first things you look at in the morning. You check your social media as you grab breakfast, it’s nearby at work, and at your fingertips as you stop off for drinks afterwards. Most of us have experienced that moment of panic when you realize your phone is not in your pocket and you wonder where you left it.

Your phone is equipped with a suite of sensors. These monitor everything from where you are, humidity, atmospheric pressure, and motion. The motion sensors of your phone are very sensitive. It is even possible to match where you touch a screen with the motion detected by your phone. Any app on your phone that trackes this data can read your text messages or the password to your banking app with a high degree of accuracy.

Your location can be tracked not only through your phone’s GPS, but also by monitoring nearby cell towers, Wi-Fi signals, and even Bluetooth devices nearby. In fact, your location can be pinpointed from Bluetooth devices even if your phone’s Bluetooth transmitter is turned off.

What Apps Are Invading Your Privacy?

Smartphone Location MarkerTo access the location features on your phone, an app must have permission to use that information. Most people simply accept that the permissions requested by an app when installing it are necessary and click ‘OK’. You may not realize that location data can be some of the most valuable information an advertiser can have. Companies that provide targeted ads, including Apple, Google, Facebook, use location data to help identify your interests and activities offline that you might not otherwise reveal.

Which apps use your phone’s motion sensors to determine which keys you are pressing on your phone? Maybe none of them, or maybe all of them. Apps don’t need permission to use your phone’s motion sensors. Therefore, there is no way of knowing which companies may be monitoring a phone’s sensors for this information.

You may also want to know about the many privacy risks of using period tracking apps, which many women use regularly.

Protect Your Privacy on Your Smartphone

There are some measures you can take today to protect your privacy on your beloved smartphone. Below you will see how managing your apps, encrypting your data, deleting old apps, and locking your phone can help keep you safe.

Manage App Permissions

Checking the permissions you give apps on your phones can restore some privacy on your smartphone. Not every app that asks for permission to use your location settings, your microphone, or your camera really needs those services to perform as you want. We have written guides that help you adjust the privacy settings for a lot of popular social media platforms.

Encrypt Your Data

Encrypting your device can also help guard your sensitive data in the event your phone is lost or stolen, or when you trade in for a new phone. When you encrypt the information on your phone, it also helps keep apps from reading the content of your files without having your permission. This can keep your data safe from virus attacks or malicious apps overstepping their bounds. Moreover, before you throw away or sell your old phone make sure to erase all your personal information form the device.

Delete Old Apps

It’s not uncommon for people to try out an app, use it for a while and then gradually lose interest. Unless you regularly purge your phone, these old apps will sit around for months or even years. While you may not be using the app, the permissions you gave it are still in effect. If the app has permission to use your location, access other apps, or use your microphone, it may still be keeping track of your smartphone. Why not go through your apps and uninstall the ones you no longer need? Deleting old apps isn’t just good if you want to protect your privacy, it also helps your smartphone to run smoothly.

Lock your Phone

lock on smartphoneIt may seem obvious, but enabling a lock screen protected by a pin is one of the simplest measures you can take to protect the data on your phone. Yet many people still have no lock screen enabled. When you think of the sensitive information you have on your phone including photos, access to your bank and credit cards, and full access to your contact list and social media accounts, having a lock screen makes sense. You can protect this personal information from anyone trying to get to it by stealing your phone.

A VPN Is the Ultimate in Privacy Protection

While other measures give some degree of protection, a VPN is one of the easiest and best things you can do to preserve your privacy on your smartphone. A VPN helps keep your information anonymous as you use your device.

How Does it Work?

VPN connectionWhen you connect to the internet through a VPN, the information going to the VPN server is encrypted. The VPN then forwards the data from its anonymous server. This middleman approach helps separate you from the information you provide or request. When data is sent back to you, it must go to the VPN first, so the sender never has access to you directly. The VPN then encrypts the information and sends it on to you. With a quality VPN, your information remains confidential. Since all data can be routed through the VPN, you have a greater degree of control over what information passes through your device, and how that information is tagged to you.

Safe Public Wi-Fi

When using your device over a public Wi-Fi, such as at a coffee shop, the VPN’s encryption helps protect you against prying eyes. Hackers often gain sensitive information by snooping on the signals travelling through a public Wi-Fi connection. Using a VPN service will keep your connection as secure as if you were surfing at home.

More Benefits?

A VPN service also offers other benefits to users. Your connection at work may block access to certain websites and services. By connecting to a VPN, you are able to avoid those restrictions to access the sites you want on your phone. Video streaming services also limit access to content based on where you are located. By connecting to a VPN server in a different part of the world, you can avoid those limitations to take full advantage of that content available online.

Final Thoughts

In a time when privacy scandals are rocking some of the largest businesses, taking steps to protect yourself only makes sense. The smartphone is only a decade old, so it is not surprising that we are still learning how this effects our privacy.

There are also smartphones designed exclusively for data privacy and security. By taking some simple steps to protect yourself, you can have peace of mind because your privacy is protected.

There are also other popular encrypted messaging apps that you can use to facilitate communications. To learn more about how a VPN can help safeguard your privacy, check out our posts on choosing the right VPN for your needs.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.