This post describes why all consumers should secure their privacy on a smartphone and how to do it. First, I describe what happens if privacy is left unprotected and then give step-by-step instructions for securing iPhones and Android-based phones.
Chances are that your smartphone is collecting a lot of information that is useful to profiteers of the legal and illegal variety. Entities can upload your data to sell or exploit it or just to spy on you.
You might think your information is insignificant because you have nothing to hide or are pretty sure that what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Really? I can assure you that organizations using algorithms to gather and exploit your online activities would strongly disagree! You might not care if tech giants, businesses, political organizations, foreign adversaries, or criminal enterprises record who you engage, where you travel, sites you visit, and where you shop or dine, but for all these organizations, your information is worth money or has other uses to them!
Can you imagine someone inside your home, documenting everything you do day and night, every day of the week? Your smartphone can gather and upload an astonishing amount of personal data to servers you never imagined. The organizations that can exploit your data absolutely love this convenience—especially when you don’t know or care about their activity (even while you sleep if the phone stays on overnight).
Your behaviors, likes and dislikes, personal and political views, purchase history, routines, locations, and confidential information can be used to create a profile of you. Organizations can use this profile effectively to maneuver you into being a revenue source or a political asset.
The only safe solution might seem like never to use a smartphone at all. Fortunately, you can take protective steps to gain control of your smartphone data and prevent it from being shared and exploited. With a lot less worry about who is uploading and exploiting your metadata, you can still use this amazing technology.
We at Presence Global believe exploitable information should not go to aggressive marketers or people with manipulative or criminal intentions. We offer the tools to secure your online presence. In addition, we offer in these blogs the knowledge to make you a well-informed user of that computer in the palm of your hand and a more alert citizen.
Change Your Smartphone Device Name!
Your smartphone has a device name. When a smartphone ’s Bluetooth service is on, the device name is visible on any nearby device that also has Bluetooth on. For security, the device name should not contain any personally identifying information (PII), such as your name. PII in the device name can be exploited by organizations or even by a stranger in public who sees your PII, approaches you, and pretends to have some connection with you.
The steps that follow are for changing device names on the most popular smartphones.
To change the device name on an iPhone:
- Tap Settings.
- Tap General.
- Tap About.
- Tap Name.
- Change the name to something without any PII.
To change the device name on an Android-based phone:
- Tap Settings.
- Tap Bluetooth.
- Turn Bluetooth on if it is off.
- Tap the menu button.
- Choose the “Rename Device” option.
- Rename your device with something that has none of your PII.
Get Rid of Your Local Footprints
A digital footprint is metadata about you. The types of data to control by the instructions are:
- Location (the longitude and latitude of the device is uploaded by the device’s location service via GPS). Allow or disallow location services for the whole phone or per app.
- Per app services: decide whether an app really needs access to each service. For example, does Bing or Google really need access to your location, contacts, microphone, camera, and files? When you use an app that needs access to something, like the microphone, you can temporarily give it access.
NOTE: If the location service for the entire device is off, apps that need this service might not work as needed. If you want strict security but still need to use an app that requires location service while the whole device disallows it, turn the service on for the whole device “only while using” that app. Understandably, this can seem like a lot of trouble. Therefore, the better choice might be your investing the time to turn off location service on a per-app basis (for each app that has no reason for location service) and leaving it on for those that must have it.
The problem with location services is that their significance goes beyond just your location even if you temporarily want an app to know your location. For example, the location service can help an organization gather PII of interest to that organization from apps about your likes, work, and your contacts. Over time, location information can enable businesses to make money off you (by selling or exploiting your information) and is why data is so highly sought by data brokers and data-hoarding apps. If businesses learn the geographic location of your home, workplace, where you’re dining, and so on, they can send you related solicitations, announcements, or ads. (They can use GPS to get your longitude and latitude and associate your location with nearby businesses.) Similarly, organizations unknown to you can attempt to influence you; if they know your habits, organizations and businesses with the information obtained from your location data can know when you are most vulnerable and more likely to purchase their products or services.
The good news is you can take steps to prevent this data from being shared and to regain control of your own personal smartphone data. We recommend that you go through the permissions and turn off the location service for all apps (for the whole device) or for each app that does not truly need it to function. For example, does an app for project planning need to know where you work or live for it to function?
For the first task in this section, we recommend that you turn off the location service for the whole device (for all apps) or for each app that does not truly need this service to function. For example, does an app for project planning need to know where you work or live to function?
After location services, the next task takes a bit more motivation: we suggest you look at all the permissions for each app and decide whether you want that app to have each service. Among smartphone varieties, the permissions you will find have similarities, not uniformity.
How to Turn Off All Location Services on an iOS or Android Device
To turn off all location services on an iOS device (iPhone or iPad):
- Tap Settings.
- Tap Privacy.
- Choose Location Services.
- Use the slide switch at the top of the screen to turn off all location services.
To turn off all location services on an Android-based device:
- Tap Settings.
- Tap Security.
- Select Location.
- Turn off the location service for all apps by moving the slide switch at the top of the screen to the off position.
Turning Off Location Services for Individual Apps on an iPhone
For the task of turning off this service for individual apps, global Location Services must be On (see Turning Off All Location Services on an iOS or Android Device as needed).
To turn off location services on individual apps on an iOS device (iPhone or iPad):
- Tap Settings.
- Scroll down and tap Privacy. Location Services appears at the top of the menu; it shows status as On or Off. If Off, move the slide to on position.
- Tap Location Services. The list of apps using this service and the category called System Services appears. (If Location Services is off, nothing is listed, so move the slide to the highlight on status to see the relevant apps and the System Services option.)
- Use the list of apps or system services to allow or disallow location sharing for each case. You might see different levels of permission. For example, the Find My app shows options for Never, Ask Next Time, and While Using App.
Managing All Permissions for Apps on an iPhone
This section describes how to manage all app permissions. On an iOS device (iPhone or iPad), permissions can be managed for groups of apps and individual apps.
With a group of apps, multiple apps have been grouped together. When you tap on a group, you see which apps are in the group and have allowed access to the service indicated by the group name. This task uses the Background App Refresh group as an example because it tends to have a non-trivial number of apps that use this service. For an app that has enabled this service, the service can refresh the app contents while the app runs in background. (Turning off this service might save on battery use.) Examples of apps that can use Background App Refresh are Voice Memos, Netflix, a browser, Maps, a social medium app, and so on.
To manage permissions for the apps in a group:
- Tap Settings.
- Tap General. The screen displays a menu of groups.
- Tap Background App Refresh for this example. The screen displays the apps in this group.
- For each app of interest, turn permission for Background App Refresh on or off.
For an individual app, you can look at it to discover all permissions it has and decide which permission you want it to keep:
- Tap Settings on your iPhone.
- Scroll down to the menu to the apps area.
- Tap on an app. The screen displays the app’s permissions. A permission can be enable, disable, or some type of conditional adjustment, such as “Only when [app is] used” or “Ask.”
- Enable, disable, or select other types of permissions for the app.
Managing Per-app Permissions on an Android Device
To manage all permissions on a per-app basis for an Android-based device:
- Tap Settings.
- Select “Apps” (or “App & services” or equivalent for your Android device).
- Select each app in the list of apps to manage each permission for the selected app. (You might need more than one work session for this task.)
Use Browsers and Search Engines that Respect Privacy
Most smartphones come with a default (pre-installed) browser. Default browsers often store a lot of information about your Internet use―what you search for and the sites you visit. Business, political, and criminal organizations can use PII and the metadata for harmless reasons or for intrusive or dishonest reasons, so we recommend you increase the security of your browser and choice of internet search tool. Regardless of the browser you use, select maximum privacy and use private mode (incognito) by default.
We recommend that you download a browser that is purpose-built not to be a data source for businesses. For example, we recommend Mozilla’s Firefox, a free browser from the non-profit Mozilla corporation, and the Brave browser from Brave Software, Inc. You can download either browser from Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store. You also can download Firefox directly from https://mozilla.org or download Brave directly from https://brave.com.
For a search engine, we recommend DuckDuckGo. When you start a new Internet search, you can load the Duckduckgo engine by typing https://duckduckgo.com into any browser. Type the search string into the Duckduckgo search box. So you don’t have to repeat these steps for every search, you can download the Duckduckgo extension from DuckDuckGo and import it into the browser. In addition, the Duckduckgo home page links to information about security.
Another, less-known search engine that respects privacy is Startpage. Also, a search engine recently added to the list of privacy-oriented search engines is Qwant. Qwant was developed by one of the engineers featured in a documentary from Netflix that we recommend, The Social Dilemma.
At Presence Global, we take online privacy very seriously. In fact, protecting online privacy is the main reason Presence is in business. We also seek to educate people on how best to secure their privacy because the data hoarding companies prefer you to stay ignorant so they can continue to profit from your data in secret. We say, “Don’t be a product!”
Join the movement #Privacyfirst
This article provides a peek into the privacy issues. Think of it as a first step. Whether or not you choose to use our service, we urge you to take advantage of the guidance in our blogs to help you keep personal information and metadata private and regain (or simply gain) your sanity.
Download the Presence app to manage your online identity. Presence offers a visual tool to help you see and manage your online privacy on social media and across the entire Internet. Presence Global gives you the ability to detect, protect (by auditing security and privacy settings), and control your online identity—download the Presence Global app to get started at Apple Corporation’s App Store or the Google Play Store.
For more information about controlling privacy permissions on an iPhone or iPad, go to:
Applepit.com has useful news and guidance for iPhones and iPads. At the end of 2020, for example, Apple rolled out a new privacy feature that alerts you when a non-Apple (third party) app tries to track your activity. The new feature stirred up criticism from a large social media platform that has often been accused of invading the privacy of its members and exploiting their personal information of its subscribers and non-subscribers as well.
Here are additional resources in the Presence blogs and elsewhere to help you control your online privacy, starting with an interview with Prof. Shoshana Zuboff, (author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: the Fight for a Human Future at the Ne Frontier of Power):
- Books: Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet and The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power