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Here’s how you can keep your phone (and others) from spying on you

by Mark Burstiner | February 11, 2016February 11, 2016 1:00 pm PST

Put your tin foil caps on boys and girls, it’s time to chat about the bytes and the bits. Everyone has that person in their life who can’t help but click. They don’t even read a thing before clicking “OK” and “next” and “accept.”

Don’t be that person.

Let’s take a minute to talk about your phone and security.

Whether you’re on iOS or Android, there’s are three major things you’ll want to be smart about when talking about security on your mobile device:

  • Permission
  • Location
  • Protection

Before we get into it, let me start by saying that just as with any security measure, these are intended to be strong deterrents. With physical access to your device, all bets are off. If someone really wants to get in there, they will. That said, you wouldn’t leave your bike outside without locking it, would you? No. You wouldn’t.

Ok, let’s start with a big one.

Permission

Android and iOS are essentially on the same level when it comes to permissions. Not only is the app developer required to tell you what permissions it will need when you install the app, but they’ll also ask you to allow access upon usage of the feature that requires permission, so that you know and understand exactly why the app needs access.

These permissions are absolutely changeable after the fact, and you can manage them by diving into the settings on your mobile device. Each platform is slightly different, but you’ll find the pertinent screens under the Security > Permissions area of your device. Here, you’ll be able to individually allow or deny access to parts of your phone on a per app basis. It’s incredibly convenient, but the real value add here comes in the form of changing permissions after the fact. If an app starts going crazy with location polling, you can shut it off. And that leads me into the next thing, which is Location.

Location

Location permissions get their own section because even though they’re part of your permissions control, they’re one of the more insidious hooks an app can have into your device. Not only does it hammer your battery when an app is constantly polling your location, but for those of you who are privacy conscious, your location enables an enormous amount of the advertising that’s possible on your mobile device.

If you’re looking to shut off your location tracking on the whole, you absolutely can. On either iOS or Android, you can shut off your GPS entirely and rely just on data on your device. This is rather impractical, though, considering loads of apps need your location to function properly (maps, Yelp, etc.). If you’re like me and can’t function without Google Maps telling you how to get to where you’re going, then you’ll want to take the approach of disabling location permissions for apps that you know are misbehaving.

Unfortunately, there’s no option for “Only use my location for the app and not to track me or advertise to me.” Maybe one day, just not today.

Overall, be careful which apps you give your information to. That’s not just for location. The best advice I can give you is to pay attention. Like I said, don’t be that person mindlessly clicking next. If your phone asks you to put in your security code, MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHY.

That leads me into the final pillar…

Protection

FOR THE LOVE OF DUARTE PUT A LOCK ON YOUR PHONE.

If you don’t have some sort of security option on your phone right now, stop reading and set that up.

Like I said, with physical access to any device, whether mobile or not, means your data can be compromised. Again, you wouldn’t leave your bike out on a busy street without a lock, would you? The point of having some sort of security measure is to act as a deterrent. We keep such an inordinate amount of information on our phones these days. How much information about you could a stranger hold if they got your phone and it was unlocked? Emails? Texts? Bank accounts? I know it might seem like a silly thing to include, but I see it all too often.

USE A LOCK ON YOUR PHONE.

I don’t even care whether you use a pattern, pin, long password, whatever. Anything. Just use it. If you have a fingerprint scanner, use it. The pain points of using a lock on your phone are largely mitigated by Android’s Smart Lock anyway, and iOS has a phenomenal fingerprint scanner so there really is no excuse.

Security isn’t that tough these days. Use the features on your device, and most importantly, pay attention to your actions online. This isn’t just true for mobile either. As we get closer and closer to a totally digital world, you’re going to need to know these things. Don’t sacrifice your safety for convenience. Play it smart.


Mark Burstiner

Mark is a former entrepreneur from New York by way of Chicago. He's a tech enthusiast and heavy gamer. If it's bleeding edge, he wants it. If it's...

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