By Larry Magid
This post first appeared in the Mercury News
Chances are you have a lot of apps on your phone, and there’s a good chance that there are some you’re not using or maybe not even aware of. So, in addition to being careful before downloading new apps, now may be a good time to review the apps you have and delete the ones you never use. Privacy and security issues aside, unnecessary apps waste storage space and can slow down your phone and impact battery life.
All instructions in this article are based on the latest versions of the iOS and Android operating systems. If you have older versions, the instructions might be somewhat different. For maximum security, always keep your operating system and apps up-to-date. Some Android phones may have slightly different procedures.
When considering downloading new apps, check out the permissions they ask for. Some might be necessary but others may be there mostly to collect information that could be used for advertising. If it’s a navigation app, you obviously need to let it know your location, but if it’s a game or other app that has no obvious reason why the app needs to know where you are, then you probably shouldn’t give it location access. There are some games, like Pokemon Go, that do need 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 that app requests. On iOS go to the apps page and scroll down to App Privacy which is typically below Rating and Reviews.
It’s also a good idea to read at least some reviews before downloading a new app, especially if it’s one you’re not familiar with. I don’t rely on any single review — there are always some people who love the app and some who hate it — but try to get a sense of the overall impression from users.
In the most recent versions of iOS, apps are required to ask for your permission before they can use your personal information to track you. This can include allowing the app to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites or permission to access your location or camera roll or other data. You can revoke permissions at any time by going to Settings, selecting privacy and a category such as photos, location, etc. Once you get to that screen, you’ll see a list of apps that have requested that permission with the option to turn it off or limit its use.
You can always review how apps are affecting privacy by going to Settings/Privacy and scrolling all the way down to App Privacy Report. It will show you the apps that have accessed your personal information during the past seven days. You can revoke permission by using the steps I covered earlier.
Android will ask permission when you first use an app, and unless you select “only this time” it will remember that permission for other uses. As with iOS, you can review and revoke permissions by going to Settings/Privacy and selecting Permission Manager, which, as with iOS, is organized by category of permission. You can also review which apps have recently used your information by going to Settings/Privacy/Privacy dashboard.
Android also has a method for turning off all access to your camera and microphone. If these are turned off, none of your apps will be able to take pictures or record sounds. You can configure this from Settings/Privacy where you will find several other privacy settings.
I recommend only downloading apps from the official Apple App Store or Google Play store. Apple has a vigorous approval process, which, while not perfect, does a pretty good job of weeding out apps from sketchy sources. Google doesn’t necessarily vet apps in advance, but it does a safety check on apps before you download them, warns you about potentially harmful apps, and can remove or disable apps if they are found to be dangerous or contain malware.
And, no matter what your privacy settings, you still need to protect your device’s security with a PIN or password or, when available, using 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 that feature, which helps prevent people from remotely accessing your accounts.
Also, learn how to use Google’s Find my Device or Apple’s iCloud Find My iPhone feature to be able to locate and, if necessary, lock or erase your phone if you can’t find it. These web-based services can be a lifesaver if your phone is missing and protect your personal information if it gets into the wrong hands. If your phone is backed-up on Apple or Google servers, you can restore most of your information, even if your phone is lost, stolen, or erased.
And be careful about the information you provide, especially on social media. The best privacy tools in the world can’t protect you if you give out 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 vacation pictures — many of us do it — but there have been some reports of people being burglarized because thieves know they’re not at home.