Guard Your Privacy on Android Devices

Android smartphone with lock

Android Mobile PhoneThe Android operating system is the most dominant on the market today. Android owns 87 percent of the smartphone market. Moreover, 66 percent of tablets use Android. In the United States, this translates to over 107 million people with an Android phone in their pocket each day. While most of us value the convenience and service provided on our Android phones, many may be unaware of the risks to their privacy with the use of these devices. By making a few adjustments to your Android device, you can ensure your 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. 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, and nearby Wi-Fi, cell towers, and Bluetooth devices.

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

Ads Settings

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

Privacy settings android

To do this go to settings on your Android device. Look for ‘Google’. It may be found in a personal or system tab depending on your device. Tap on it to bring up settings directly related to your Google account.

Privacy settings android

On most devices, ‘Ads’ appears at the top of the list. Tap on ‘Ads’ to bring up the settings associated with advertising targeted to your Google account.

Privacy settings android

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. 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.

To go one step further, you can 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. Information about where you go with your Android device provides crucial details about your life offline that advertisers could not otherwise gain. 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. This is information you would not normally share with Google voluntarily, and would almost certainly not wish to share with advertisers. Adjusting your location settings can help keep your personal data private.

Privacy settings android

In your Settings menu, location settings can often be found under the ‘Privacy and safety’ heading. However, on some devices it may simply be found under ‘Location’ or a similar heading.

Privacy settings android

In the ‘Privacy and safety screen’, tap ‘Location’ to adjust the location settings.

Privacy settings android

Here you can scroll through the apps that have recently used your location information. You can 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.

Privacy settings android

Tapping ‘Improve accuracy’ will access settings that pinpoint your location by means other than your phone’s GPS device. Android can scan for Wi-Fi networks nearby to help determine your location based on your proximity to those networks. 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 click the sliders on one or both to ‘Off’.

Privacy settings android

Back in 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 highest privacy security.

Restricting App Permissions

When you install any app on your device, that app will need permission to access certain services from your phone to enable some of the features of the app. While you do not have to agree to all the permissions requested, some functionality may be reduced if you deny permission. For this reason, most people simply agree to whatever permission requests an app makes on installation.

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

Privacy settings android

From the Settings menu, find the ‘Applications’ setting. This may be under a Device tab, a Personal tab, or in a list under Settings.

Privacy settings android

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.

Privacy settings android

Tap ‘Permissions’ to adjust which services the app will have access to.

Privacy settings android

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’, the permissions for some apps 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.

Your Privacy Is Important

Whether you are concerned about guarding 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.

Another simple step is to set up your online connection through a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This system can help keep details about your location and web usage anonymous and also provide benefits such as avoiding geographic restrictions on video streaming services. Learn more about how a VPN may easily help you secure your privacy online.

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.