A Full Guide to Optimizing Android Privacy and Security Settings

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Guard Your Privacy on Android Devices - A Quick Summary

Android is part of Google, a company that’s notorious for how much data it likes to gather on its customers. However, it’s not just Google, but also a host of other parties that like to gather your data. As such, you’d be wise to protect your privacy when using your Android device.

Fortunately, you can greatly improve your privacy by tweaking a few settings and taking some easy steps. These include:

  • Tweaking your Ads settings
  • Configuring your location tracking settings
  • Managing your app’s permissions to access data, sensors and hardware
  • Uninstalling apps you don’t use (anymore)
  • Revising which apps access your Google account
  • Turning off locked screen notifications
  • Using a VPN, such as Surfshark.

To learn more about Android privacy settings, here’s our comprehensive guide on how to secure your privacy on an Android phone.

Android PhoneThe Android operating system is the most dominant on the market today. Android owns almost 70 percent of the smartphone market, making it a clear leader. Moreover, 66 percent of tablets use Android.

In the United States, this translates to over 130 million people with an Android phone in their pocket each day. And yet, most people don’t know much about Android privacy at all.

While most of us value the convenience and service provided on our Android phones, many may be unaware of the risks of not taking Android privacy seriously. By tweaking your Android device’s settings and taking some other steps, you can ensure your Android privacy is better protected.

Why Worry About Android Privacy?

With Android being the largest smartphone device operating system, and Google being such a recognized name, you may think there are no concerns about privacy using their products. Unfortunately, a simple reading of Android’s privacy policy reveals much to concern privacy experts.

Google’s Privacy Policy spells out the fact that your Android device will collect information including the content of email, photos, and videos, like other privacy policies. They also track how you use apps, games, and browsers on the device. Moreover, Google collects information about search terms, how you interact with ads, who you call and how long you talk to them. Android monitors your location via GPS, the sensors in your device, nearby WiFi networks, cell towers, and Bluetooth devices.

All this information is collected to improve their services. Google especially wants to improve on better targeting for advertisers. Google can charge more if they’re able to show ads to very specific groups of people. The majority of Google profits from Android come from advertising based on information gathered about you from your device.

Ads Settings

Taking charge of the Ads Settings on your Android device is one of the best steps you can take to secure your personal data.

Privacy settings android

To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Settings on your Android device.
  2. Look for “Google.” It may be found under a personal or system tab depending on your device. Tap on it to bring up settings directly related to your Google account.
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  4. Tap on “Ads” to bring up the settings associated with advertising targeted to your Google account.
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  6. On the “Ads” screen, you can tap on “Ads by Google” to be taken to a webpage outlining more information about how Google uses your information in advertising.
  7. To stop apps and services on Android from creating personalized profiles of your activity for advertising purposes, click on the slider next to “Opt out of Ads Personalization.” This stops all future profiling and stops the use of your profile for showing targeted ads.
  8. Tap on “Reset advertising ID” to strip the information already stored on your profile from the ID Google assigns to your account.

Location Tracking Settings

One of the more sneaky ways Android builds a profile of your interests for advertisers is through tracking your location. In many ways, this can be a nightmare for those concerned about their privacy.

By tracking where your Android device is at all times, Google can determine your home and work locations, where you frequently shop, who your doctor is, where your kids go to school and many other private details. Adjusting your location settings can help keep your data private. Here’s how you can do that:

  1. Go to your Settings menu, then head to “Privacy and safety.”
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  3.  Go to “Location settings.” If you can’t find that here, your device might have stored it under “Location” or a similar heading.
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  5. In the “Privacy and safety screen,” tap “Location” to adjust the location settings.
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  7. Scroll through the apps that have recently used your location information. Click on each app or service to adjust permission to access location settings or turn off all location access by toggling the slider at the top of the screen.
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  9. Tapping “Improve accuracy” will access settings that pinpoint your location by means other than your phone’s GPS device. Android can scan for WiFi networks nearby to help determine your location based on your proximity to those networks.
  10. Android can also map your location through nearby Bluetooth devices broadcasting in your area. This works even if your device has Bluetooth turned off. To help keep your location anonymous, you can move the sliders on one or both to “Off.”
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  12. Back on the “Location” screen, tap on “Locating method” to restrict access to the different means of locating your device. The least accurate pinpointing method is to restrict Android to using GPS only. Choose this method for the greatest degree of privacy.

Manage App Permissions – Android Privacy Settings

When you install any app on your device, that app will often need certain permissions, such as accessing your camera or location. The app needs these permissions for (some of) its features to work, which often encroaches upon your Android privacy preferences.

While you do not have to agree to all the permissions requested, often the app will not work as well if you don’t. Moreover, a lot of simple apps which only serve one specific purpose don’t work at all if you don’t give it the permission(s) it claims to need. For this reason, most people simply agree to whatever permission requests an app makes on installation.

Some apps abuse the “permission system”

Many programs take advantage of “the permission system” by asking for Android app permissions which are not required to fulfill their functions. This can include accessing contact lists, your microphone, camera, or other apps. It can be a good idea to go through your apps to check the permissions granted and perhaps revoke some that don’t seem to be required.

Privacy settings android

  1. From the Settings menu, find the “Applications” setting. This may be under a Device tab, a Personal tab, or in a list under Settings.
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  3. In the “Applications” menu, tap “Application manager.” This will bring up a list of all apps installed on your Android device. Tap each app you want to examine the permissions for.
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  5. Tap “Permissions” to adjust which services the app will have access to. Simply toggle the slider to “Off” to change this.
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If we look at the camera app, we see it has access to “Camera” for obvious reasons. Moreover, it has access to your “Location” to tag your photo with where it was taken if you choose that option. The camera also has access to the “Microphone” so you can use voice control to tell your phone when to snap the photo. Finally, the app has access to “Storage” so it can save the photos you take on your device. To disable any of these, toggle the slider to “Off.”

While it is obvious why the camera needs access to “Camera”, other Android app permissions may not be so obvious. Turning off a required permission could cripple your app. No need to panic if that happens! Simply come back to the application and re-enable the necessary permission.


Uninstall Unused Apps

This is quite an obvious step, but an important one nonetheless. If you don’t use an app (anymore), it will only hog battery and CPU resources, putting an undue load on your system.  Even more importantly, unused apps often still access (sensitive) data on your device. Why would you allow this if you’re no longer benefiting from the service the app offers?

To better protect your Android privacy, it’s best to uninstall apps that are no longer in use.


Revise Which Apps Can Access Your Google Account

Apart from accessing data on your device, some apps also have access to information associated with your Google account. They might have access to your Google Drive or Gmail for instance.

Fortunately, it’s easy to revise which apps have this access and to revoke it. Simply go to your Google account permissions page and check out the apps you find there. Click on an app and select “remove access,” if you want to revoke an app’s permission to access your Google account.


Improve Your Android Privacy By Securing Your Lock Screen

Even if your screen is locked, Android often shows many notifications. Some of these might be privacy-sensitive. Anyone who picks up your phone and presses the lock-screen button can see these notifications.

Fortunately, it’s quite easy to change this:

  1. Go to your settings and navigate to “Lock Screen.”
  2. Depending on how much you want to safeguard your privacy, choose “Show sensitive content only when unlocked” or “Don’t show notifications at all.

Depending on your device, there might be some minor variations. On Samsung devices, for instance, you’ll have to go to the separate “Lock Screen” portion of your system settings and click on “Notifications.” There’ll you’ll find similar options.

Within the MIUI Android version used by Xiaomi, you go to “Settings” > “Lock screen notifications.” Here you can choose whether to show lock screen notifications and in what format. Furthermore, you can specify which apps are able to show lock screen notifications.


Use A VPN

Using a VPN is a great way to improve your privacy on Android and all your other devices. After all, one of the main ways that online parties identify you is by looking at your IP address. By knowing this address, they can track you with ease and keep tabs on basically anything you do.

This is where a VPN comes in. A VPN changes your “real” IP address by connecting you to one of its servers. These servers have their own IP address which you will be using to surf the web once you connect to them. By regularly changing VPN servers — a process that generally happens automatically if you just connect to the fastest server – you can prevent online parties from spying on you by tracking your IP address.

We greatly recommend Surfshark to improve your privacy on your Android phone or tablet and your other devices. After all, Surfshark is very affordable, the fastest VPN we have tested, and offers great privacy.

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Android 12 Privacy Settings And Features

Android 12 has been out since October 2021 and while not available on all Android devices yet, it seems to be a great update for those who value their privacy. Some of its privacy features include its new privacy dashboard and its camera and microphone indicator.

The control Android 12 offers over the accuracy of your location data is a great addition as well. Below we’ll discuss Android’s 12 privacy updates in more detail.

Privacy dashboard

Google came up with Android 12’s privacy dashboard to give people more insight and control over what data applications can access. This dashboard shows you exactly what data, which phone sensors, and hardware different apps use and access. For instance, by clicking on the camera or microphone tab, you’ll see a list of all of the apps which use these two features of your phone.

You’ll also get to see a timeline showing when exactly these apps were using your camera or microphone. Finally, the circle diagram shows you how many applications actually actively use their permissions.

If you see something you don’t like, which should be quite easy thanks to the clear structure of the privacy dashboard, you can easily change it. At the bottom of the page, you’ll see a button saying “Manage Permissions.”

By clicking on it, you can easily change your Android app permissions. Don’t like the fact that an application is unnecessarily gathering information on your contacts? That’s easy to solve with the Android 12 Privacy Dashboard.

Camera and microphone indicator

Obviously, it’s great to have a privacy dashboard telling you which apps are accessing what data and parts of your phone. However, some parts of your phone require a bit more urgency as far as privacy is concerned. When it comes to your camera and microphone, you ideally want to get live feedback on what apps are using them.

This is where Android 12’s camera and microphone indicator comes in. Whenever your camera and/or microphone are active, you’ll see a little green indicator in the top right corner of your screen.

Within this little green field will appear a camera and/or microphone icon, depending on what’s in use. By tapping on the indicator, you can see what application(s) is/are using them.

This makes it very easy to turn off an application or alter its permissions before serious privacy infringements occur. And, that brings us to our next point.

Shortcuts to revoke camera and microphone permissions

The new camera and microphone indicator are only useful if users can actually do something with the information this feature gives them. Fortunately, Android 12’s developers have thought this true.

By using your phone’s “Quick Settings” you can easily and very swiftly limit the camera and microphone permissions of whatever app is using them.

In order to access these settings, simply swipe from the top to the bottom part of your screen. Just like you would do with any other version of Android.

Managing location data

Android 12 offers users more control over who they share (highly accurate) location data with. Apps might request permission to access your location for different reasons. The most obvious examples probably include navigation apps like Google Maps, which take you from A to B.

But applications that tell you what the weather is like and show you local news or products purchasable in your area also require access to your location.

Of course, you might ask yourself if it’s really necessary that all of these apps know your exact location. Arguably, some of these applications, such as weather apps, can operate just fine knowing the city you’re in.

Even if it’s a particularly large or geographically varied city, knowing the neighbourhood you’re in will probably do just fine. Whenever you launch an app that requires location data, Android 12 will ask you to choose between “Precise” and “Approximate.”

If you choose “Precise”, the app will know your exact location, with an error margin of a few meters. But if you choose “Approximate”, the app will only know the vicinity you’re in, with a radius of about one mile.

Of couse, in some cases apps will simply not work or not work well if you only enable “approximate location data.” An example of this is “Find my device.” Needless to say, knowing an area with a one-mile radius where your phone could be won’t do you too much good.

The same goes for Google Maps: the reason for using it is generally that you want to know exactly where you are and the exact way you have to take to get to your destination.

Other Android 12 privacy and security features

  • Phishing detection in Google Messages: To protect user data, Android 12 gives users a warning alongside suspicious messages, especially if these contain suspicious links. To make this feature as effective as possible, Google uses machine learning. Users can also give feedback to further improve the system. Do note that phising detection is only available for Google Pixel devices.
  • Limiting motion data sharing: Two important components of your phone that are often overlooked are its gyroscope and its accelerator. These two sensors are vital to determine the orientation of your phone and as such change and maintain the correct screen orientation (horizontal or portrait). Your accelerator is also important for interpreting motion commands.
  • Variable data processing: In Android 12 the data these sensors gather is refreshed at a limited rate, to limit the data your device is sharing about you, and as such safeguard your privacy. Some apps may require a faster data processing rate from these sensors. You can give these apps a special permission too.
  • App hibernation: In Android 12, apps you haven’t used for some months lose their permissions to access (sensitive) data on your phone. Likewise, all the information stored in the app’s cache is also lost. In order for the app to get its permissions to access data, sensors and hardware back, you need to give it permission again. This feature prevents apps you used long ago, that you’ve forgotten about, from infringing on your privacy unnoticed and sending you push notifications.
  • Clipboard access notifications: Android 12 will warn you if an app uses clipboard data from other apps. This warning only appears the first time.

Your Privacy Is Important

Whether you are concerned about safeguarding your private information on your Android device, or you are giving a device to your child, checking the privacy settings is a good way to ensure your information remains private.

These simple measures will help you maintain the level of privacy that is right for you. If you want even more privacy and security, check out our list of the top 5 most secure smartphones designed with privacy in mind.

Guard Your Privacy on Android Devices - Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a specific question about safeguarding your privacy on your Android device? Check out our FAQ down below. Have we not answered your question? Leave us a comment down below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

The privacy settings on Android are a bit spread out. You’ll have to access different settings depending on how you want to improve your privacy.

  • If you want to stop ad profiling, you have to go to “Google” within your settings menu and then to “Ads”.
  • If you want to manage your app permissions, you’ll instead go to “Applications”.

Then there are also some differences specific to your device. To get more detailed information on all of these privacy settings, consult this article.

There are several ways to increase your privacy when using your Android smartphone or tablet, such as:

  • Uninstalling unused apps
  • Managing your app permissions
  • Turning off locked screen notifications
  • Managing your geo-tracking settings
  • Using a VPN

Android and its parent company Google haven’t always been particularly well-known for their privacy-friendliness. Nevertheless, there are still a lot of things you can do to improve your privacy when using an Android device, such as managing your app permissions and your advertisement settings. Android 12 has taken even more positive steps towards securing users’ privacy. Learn more about Android privacy here.

One of the greatest features that Android 12 introduced upon its release is its privacy dashboard. This gives you more insight into the data, sensors, and components that different apps are using and when. This feature greatly improves users’ privacy by making the way apps fulfil their purpose more transparent.

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.