If you’re like me, you have a lot of apps on your phone, and there’s a good chance you don’t use some, or maybe you’re not even aware of them. So don’t just be careful before downloading new apps, now might be a good time to review the apps you have and delete the ones you never had
use. Privacy and security issues aside, unnecessary apps waste storage space and can slow down your phone and drain battery life.
All instructions in this article are based on the latest versions of iOS and Android operating systems. If you have older versions, the instructions may be slightly different. For maximum security, always keep your operating system and apps up to date. Some Android phones may have slightly different procedures.
If you’re considering downloading new apps, check the permissions they’re asking for. Some may be necessary, others are mainly used to collect information that could be used for advertising. Of course, if it’s a navigation app you’ll need to tell it your location, but if it’s a game or other app that doesn’t have an obvious reason why the app needs to know where you are, you should probably not granting her location access. There are some games, like Pokeman Go, that require your location. On Android, go to the app’s page in the App Store and select About this app. Scroll down to App Permissions to see what permissions this app is requesting. On iOS, go to the app page and scroll down to App privacy, which is usually under Rating and reviews.
It’s also a good idea to read at least some reviews before downloading a new app, especially if it’s an app you’re not familiar with. I don’t rely on a single rating – there are always some people who love the app and others who hate it – but try to get a sense of the overall user experience.
In the latest versions of iOS, apps must get your permission before they can use your personal information to track you. This may include allowing the app to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites, or allowing access to your location or camera roll or other data. You can revoke permissions at any time by going to Settings, selecting Privacy, and choosing a category like Photos, Location, etc. Once you get to this screen, you will see a list of apps that have requested this permission, with the option to turn off rotation or limit its use.
You can always check how apps impact privacy by going to Settings/Privacy and scrolling all the way down to the App Privacy Report. It shows you the apps that have accessed your personal data in the last seven days. You can revoke permission by following the steps outlined above.
Android asks for permissions when you first use an app, and unless you select “just this time,” it saves that permission for other uses. As with iOS, you can review and revoke permissions by going to Settings/Privacy and selecting the Permissions Manager, which like iOS is organized by permission categories. You can also check which apps have recently used your information by going to Settings/Privacy/Privacy dashboard.
Android also has a method of disabling all access to your camera and microphone. If these are disabled, none of your apps can take pictures or record sounds. You can configure this under Settings/Privacy, where you will find several other privacy settings.
I recommend downloading apps only from the official Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Apple has a vigorous approval process that, while not perfect, weeds out apps from patchy sources pretty well. Google doesn’t necessarily pre-screen apps, but it does security scan apps before you download them, warns you about potentially malicious apps, and may remove or disable apps if they’re deemed dangerous or contain malware.
And regardless of your privacy settings, you still need to protect your device’s security with a PIN or password, or where available biometrics such as fingerprint or face recognition. Never share passwords and make sure your phone is locked when you’re not actively using it. Use two-factor authentication with apps that support this feature to prevent people from remotely accessing your accounts.
Also, learn how to use Google’s Find My Device feature or Apple’s iCloud Find My iPhone feature to locate your phone and possibly lock or erase it if you can’t find it. These web-based services can be a lifesaver if your phone is lost and protect your personal information if it falls into the wrong hands. With your phone backed up on Apple or Google servers, you can recover most of your information even if your phone is lost, stolen, or erased.
And be careful with the information you provide, especially on social media. The world’s best privacy tools can’t protect you if you give away too much personal information. Think twice before telling others that you are on vacation or away from home. I don’t want to exaggerate the risk of posting holiday pictures – many of us do – but there have been some reports of people being broken into because thieves knew they weren’t home.
Larry Magid is a technology journalist and internet safety activist.