Privacy concerns used to involve someone stealing your wallet or finding sensitive information in your garbage. Now most everyone carries their entire digital identity in their pocket, and it's ripe for exploitation by hackers and criminals.
Maintaining your privacy in the digital age can be difficult, especially on your mobile device. If you want to stay safe—and keep your identity intact—there are a few basic things you can do to audit your security without downloading a single app.
1. Use a passcode or fingerprint
The most common sense—and easiest—way to make sure your smartphone is secure is to always have a passcode or fingerprint unlock turned on. There are always ways around this basic type of security, but it adds an essential layer of security that's going to stop most people.
2. Audit app permissions
Even legitimate apps can request unneeded permissions that compromise security. Don't ignore the permissions an app is asking for—most don't need much, and if something seems fishy, Google the app to be sure other people haven't experienced problems.
SEE: Keep smartphones backdoor free, urges cybersecurity expert Susan Landau (TechRepublic)
You can also review permissions of installed apps on Android by opening Settings, tapping on Privacy, and then tapping on App Permissions. It breaks permissions down by category and allows you to review what apps have access to which part of your phone.
iOS functions similarly: open Settings, tap on Privacy, and choose the particular part of your device you want to check. Apps that have requested particular permissions will show up in certain categories, allowing you to toggle their access on and off.
3. Make sure "Find My Phone" services are activated
Both Android and iOS offer device location services, provided you've installed the appropriate apps, set them up, and given the software permission to run. In the event of theft these services allow you remotely lock, wipe, and deactivate your device to prevent any theft of private information.
Losing your phone is horrible, but losing your identity is far worse.
4. Don't ignore updates
A device with an outdated OS is ripe for compromise. Keeping your smartphone up to date is just as important as keeping your PC updated. Lots of small updates to iOS and Android are plugging security holes. If your device isn't running the newest version you could fall prey to hacks that would have been simple to avoid.
5. Turn on Do Not Track in your web browser
Both Safari and Chrome have options to tell websites not to track you, which is how they gather advertising data and other personally identifying info. Turning this option on in both browsers eliminates one more leak of personal info. Many websites may not use that data maliciously, but you're always better safe than sorry.
In Chrome, open browser settings, tap on Privacy, and toggle send usage data to never. To disable tracking in Safari, open the Settings app, scroll down to Privacy & Security and toggle Do Not Track on.
- Android backdoor is secretly sending user data and texts to China, and no one knows why (TechRepublic)
- Need a secure smartphone? Answer is simple, experts say (ZDNet)
- Privacy issues abound as UK passes controversial 'snoopers' charter' (TechRepublic)
- UnaPhone Zenith promises to protect your privacy — but there's a catch (ZDNet)
- Health apps may pose major privacy concerns (CBS News)
Brandon Vigliarolo has nothing to disclose. He does not hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.