After the massive privacy scandals that have rocked Facebook in recent years, it was only natural for mobile phone users and consumer protection agencies to turn their eyes on Google. The company, after all, owns Android, the world’s most popular mobile operating system. It turns out, Android is not that good at restricting apps from accessing user data, and despite Google’s best attempts at making Android privacy-focused, there are many sneaky ways Android apps are tracking you.
How Android Apps Are Tracking You
If you have ever downloaded a free app from Play Store, you must have noted that some apps that have nothing to do with messaging or contacts still request access to the Contacts, Photos, Camera and even Messages apps. The reason that they do this is that they sell the data to advertisers, and that is how they can remain “free” apps. The more data an app can collect and send to advertisers, the more money the developers make. It is a nasty, vicious cycle in which mobile phone users are the pawns in the game.
Google’s Best Practices
Some app developers choose to intentionally ignore Google’s best practices, which recommend that apps only collect information on what is called Advertising ID, a unique but resettable number that identifies a potential customer to advertisers. They also collect Android ID, the MAC address, and the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity), all of which are identifiers that are hard to change and which can be used to generate intimate user details.
Google does not recommend any of these actions, but also does little to enforce these standards. In any case, when was the last time you heard of Google censoring an app for violating Android’s best practices?
And while it is easy to delete private data from the likes of Google and Facebook, it is much harder to keep track of all the apps that have at one point been installed on your phone and to request the deleting of data collected over the years. In other words, privacy breaches by some of the ‘free’ apps are permanent.
How to Stay Safe from Android Apps That May be Tracking You
When it comes to user privacy, it is mostly upon you to keep yourself safe from prying eyes. One of the surest ways to keep your data safe is to install a utility app, such as Android cleaning tool on your phone. This app will scan your system for viruses, malware, and restrict any unauthorized access to your private data.
At the same time, you also need to read the terms and conditions of the apps that you download over the internet. Try not to be in the business of giving any unnecessary access to your data. A gaming app should not have access to your messages or location info, for instance. If the app insists on having such access, consider doing without it.
You should also consider keeping track of the apps installed on your device because that way, you can keep track of any privacy breaches that you might experience.
Stop Google from Tracking Your Location
One of the most concerning privacy violations that you might be experiencing comes from Google and not from app developers. If you have your Location History turned on, Google can track your every move and make a profile of your daily activities, which it then stores indefinitely. Turning on the Location History also gives information to some of the apps installed on your phone, particularly on your daily activities and movements. Data that is collected is then shared with advertisers.
Here is how to turn off Google’s Location History in a web browser (Mobile or Desktop):
- Go to Myaccount.google.com.
- Sign in to your Google account.
- Navigate to Personal Info & Privacy, and choose Go to My Activity.
- On the left navigation bar, click Activity Controls.
- Toggle off Web & App Activity.
- Scroll further down and toggle off Location History as well.
On an Android Device, the following are the steps to take:
- Navigate to the Settings app.
- Tap on Google Settings.
- Select Google Account (Info, security & personalization).
- Choose Data & personalization.
- Tap on Web & App Activity.
- Turn off Web & App Activity.
- Scroll further down and toggle off Location History as well.
Even after restricting Google from collecting info on your location, you have probably already given some level of access to apps that are already installed on your phone. You can limit the data that these apps can collect on your device by going to Settings > Apps & notifications and choosing the app that you want to restrict from accessing your data. If you tap on Permissions, you will see what the app has access to on your phone. From here, you can turn off the permissions to read your messages or track your location, for instance.
You can also choose to reset your phone if limiting the permissions on every app seems a daunting task. In that case, all the apps that are installed on Android device will return to default settings or be deleted. This guide will show you how to reset your phone.
As a general rule of thumb, you should try and limit the permissions that third-party apps have on your phone, especially when it comes to social media. Some apps might request “to make posts on your behalf.” You should not give such an unprecedented level of access to third-party apps because it means that they will have access to all your social media data. This data is then shared with advertisers without your consent.
In conclusion, when it comes to user privacy, you should be on the frontline and not depend on Google for safety measures from Android apps that may be tracking you. Remember that even Google uses some of your data to make money. The data economy will exploit those who are sloppy with their private information, and while it is tough not to leak private information, anyone can take steps to secure their data better and prevent violations.
What other ways do you know about that can block tracking apps on the Android system? Feel free to share in the comment section below.
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