Smartphones

Scan, track, and control how apps access your personal data

With Online Privacy Shield, you can scan the apps on your device, find out what information they're using, and control what each service can see.

Online Privacy Shield

More than likely, you have various applications installed on your smartphone that use your data. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Google, Dropbox, Flickr; they all access your user data in different ways. But how do you find out exactly what data each of these services use, and is there anything you can do to control that? Yes, and I'm here to tell you how.

There's a very handy, free app in the Google Play Store that will scan those apps, present to you exactly what information they are using, and give you easy access to controlling what each service can see. That app is called Online Privacy Shield, and it's a must-have for anyone seriously concerned about the privacy of their information. With a few taps, you'll know who has access to the information you share on various social networking sites. With a few more taps, you can revoke that permission. It's simple to use, effective, and ready to serve.

Let's take a closer look at Online Privacy Shield.

Installation

The installation process is as simple as any other application on the Android platform. Just follow these steps:

  1. Open the Google Play Store
  2. Search for "online privacy shield" (no quotes)
  3. Tap the entry for the app
  4. Tap Install
  5. Tap Accept

Once the installation is completed, you'll see the launcher for the app on your home screen. If you don't see the launcher there, open up your app drawer to locate it.

Usage

Using Online Privacy Shield is as easy as the installation. When you fire up the app, you'll see a screen that asks you to select a service to check (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

Online Privacy Shield running on a Verizon-branded Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD.

Tap the Select Services button, and then select a service to add. Once you select a service, you'll be re-directed to a login screen for that service. Upon successful authentication, you'll see Online Privacy Shield running the scan on the service. When the scan is complete, you'll be presented with the results of the scan. The results page will tell you how many apps have access to your information. After running a scan on my Facebook account, I was informed that 148 apps had access to my information. Tapping on the Show Me button offered the complete list of the apps that have access (Figure B).

Figure B

Figure B

Apps that have access to Facebook information.

To revoke permissions, tap on the particular app and then remove its permissions (Figure C).

Figure C

Figure C

How some apps gain permissions is beyond me.

Every service has a different interface for removing access. For example, the Google app removal screen (Figure D) is much different than the Facebook screen. With some, you must verify access revocation (such as with Facebook); with others, it's a single click (such as with Google).

Figure D

Figure D

Revoking permissions from a Google account.

Other than adding services, there's only one user-configurable setting available for the application. If you tap the menu button in the upper right corner of the main window, you can enable/disable the application startup at boot. Other than that, it's a fairly single-minded application that offers little configuration but a lot of usefulness.

If you're looking for a quick way to revoke access to many of the usual social-networking suspects (access you may not even remember giving), you can't go wrong with Online Privacy Shield. I was honestly surprised at how many apps had access to my information and spent the time necessary to clean that mess up. Now, my information is only made available to those sites and services I've deemed valid.

What other apps do you recommend that uncover permissions and information access? Share your expertise in the discussion thread below.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

4 comments
shecopywrites
shecopywrites

Just downloaded it but it keeps shutting down on me. I'll keep trying. Thanks for this info.

unixwolf.edu
unixwolf.edu

Now they just need to create the same type of application for iOS.

trich63
trich63

Apple already did. It's called Privacy, and it's in the Settings app. You can see, change, and lock (prevent the app from changing) access to Contacts, Calendar, Photos, Facebook, Twitter, Email, Location data - the works. And, since all apps have to be vetted by Apple and cannot access this information without explicit user permission, there's no way to bypass it. And, since its in the OS, I doesn't need to be installed, configured, or otherwise updated. Each app will ask "May I access your Photos?" when first used, and you can grant or deny access. You only need to go to the settings if you decide to change your original setting.

aroc
aroc

@trich63 Actually, this is nothing like that - it checks the access to various sites that apps point to such as FaceBook and Twitter, not local device resources, like Contacts and Photos.  Since the only "service" it includes that I actually use is Google, I let it direct me to that (scary mechanism there as I had the sensation of it "watching over my shoulder" as I did the login, password and all, although it did seem to be a "secure" Google web login page - hoping so...).  No surprises there - Android services that I expect to run to access my Gmail stuff, and Chrome/Chromium browsers' sync'ing.


Not using FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc that it suggests, I uninstalled it. Moving right along ...


YMMV if you use all those other standard "services" that have all that private stuff to worry about (that's why I don't - too much to worry about already).