Android and privacy — these are the two words that don't go hand in hand. Many users choose Apple's iPhone (and iOS) just because of the data and privacy claims of the company. However, the situation has improved in the past few years. Google has added several privacy settings to Android to protect user data over the last few years. Here are some of the best Android privacy settings that you should know about.
Note: Some settings may vary depending upon the Android version and device type. It's best to search for a particular setting if you cannot spot it directly.
Protect your digital privacy on Android
1. Check Android app permissions
A super-useful Android setting, which is often ignored, is the operating system's inbuilt permission manager. Android allows you to precisely see what permissions the installed apps have access to and what they are utilizing in the background. You should keep an eye on these permissions and make sure that the apps only have access to the resources they need. To manage app permissions on your Android smartphone, follow these steps:
- Open Settings and scroll down until you see the Privacy menu.
- In the Privacy settings, select Permissions Manager.
- Here, you can manage what resource each app can access.
Scroll through the list of permissions and see which app is accessing which resource and how often it is accessing it. If you spot something that is not right, click on the app and disable it from accessing that particular permission.
2. Browse the web with more privacy
- Turn on privacy settings on the default browser (Chrome): Google Chrome comes pre-installed as a default web browser on most Android smartphones. The web browser from Google has a functionality built-in called Enhanced Safe Browsing that protects the users against dangerous downloads and malicious websites. However, Google says that it collects more data when Enhanced Safe Browsing is enabled, because of which many users hesitate to use this option. Nonetheless, here is how you can enable Enhanced Safe Browsing on Google Chrome for Android:
- Open Google Chrome and tap the three dots on the top right corner.
- Now, select Settings → Privacy and Security → Safe browsing.
- Select Enhanced Safe Browsing.
- Use a privacy-focused web browser: Google Chrome, even though it is the default browser on most Android smartphones, it isn't the best privacy-focused web browser out there. Thankfully, a number of privacy-focused web browsers are available on the Google Play Store. Brave and Firefox are some of the browsers that I generally prefer, but you can also switch to DuckDuckGo that offers Apple's App Tracking Transparency as well.
3. Use a private DNS
Domain Name System or DNS, for those unaware, is the phonebook of the Internet that allows your Android device to translate human-readable website names (such as Google.com) into their IP address. Many services keep track of DNS logs, so it's best to switch to a privacy-focused DNS, such as Cloudflare, on your Android smartphone. Follow these steps to change DNS on your Android device:
- Open Settings and then head over to network settings.
- Now, select Private DNS and now select Private DNS provider hostname.
- In the text field that appears, enter the address of your preferred DNS provider. For example, if you want to switch to Cloudflare as your DNS provider, enter
http://1dot1dot1dot1.cloudflare-dns.com/in the text field.
4. Keep track of microphone and camera access
With Android 12, Google added a feature to the operating system that notifies the user whenever an app or a service accesses sensitive resources, the camera, the location, and the microphone of the device. A green-colored dot should appear towards the top right corner of your device every time they're accessed. Though it's normal for apps like Google, Instagram, and Snapchat to access these resources when you're using them, if you spot any random app accessing these features in the background, you should immediately stop it from doing so (use the first trick to disable the app from utilizing the resource).
5. Use Approximate Location setting
Another nifty privacy feature that Google added to the Android OS with Android 12 is the ability to give apps an approximate location. This feature comes in handy in apps that don't need your precise location to work, such as weather and time-converter. Here's how you can enable this option:
- Open Settings and head over to Privacy → Permissions Manager.
- Next, select Location and now select the app.
- On the next screen, disable the Use precise location toggle.
6. Opt-out of targetted ads
Google, and other companies, collect a lot of data when you use an app. This data, in turn, is used for displaying targeted ads. One of the ways to prevent apps and websites from showing you targeted ads is by opting out of ad personalization. To disable ad personalization on Android, head over to Settings, select Google, then Ads, and switch it off. While you're in this setting, you should also consider hitting the Reset advertising ID button to completely disassociate your Android smartphone from your Google ads profile.
7. Uninstall unused apps
If you've been using your Android smartphone for a long time, it's possible that you have quite a few apps on your smartphone that you don't use on a regular basis. You should consider uninstalling those apps, as uninstalling unused apps will not only free up storage space on your Android device, but it can also improve the security aspect of your device. Many apps run in the background (without you even knowing about it). Such apps can collect and share your personal data, so it's best to get rid of them.
8. Use Google Play Protect
Another Android feature that many people don't know about is Play Protect. Think of this feature as an antivirus for your smartphone that regularly scans for malicious and misbehaving apps. It will warn you if it spots anything suspicious. Even though the feature automatically works in the background, you should consider running manual scans every now and then. To manually run a Google Play Protect system check, go to the Settings of your Android smartphone. Then, select Security → Google Play Protect (often labeled as App security), and then hit Scan.
9. Hide sensitive notifications on the lock screen
Android shows all notifications on the lock screen by default. This means that if your phone lands in the wrong hands accidentally, they might have access to some personal and sensitive information. In such cases, it's best to disable notifications from showing up on the lock screen. To do so, head over to Settings → Privacy → Notifications on the lock screen. Now you can opt to Show sensitive content only when unlocked — which will only show notifications that are deemed as "not sensitive" by the Android OS — or you can opt to hide all the notifications by selecting Don't show notifications at all.
10. Perform a Google Security Check-up
More often than not, your Android device is at risk due to your Google account settings. You can manage the security settings of your account directly on your Android device. Go to Settings → Security and then select Google Security Check-Up. Here, you can see if your account is at risk. For example, I had forgotten to verify the "Recovery email" of my primary Google account. Google directly notified me of it during the Google Security Check-Up.
11. Make sure Find My Device is properly set up
Like Apple, Google also offers a service, called Find My Device, that allows you to track your Android device in case you lose it or if it is stolen. You can also lock and erase your data from the device using the "Lock and erase" feature that Find My Device offers. Make sure Find My Device is turned on by going to Settings → Security → Find My Device.
12. App Pinning
App Pinning is an underrated Android feature that Google introduced with Android Lollipop. It can come in handy in a number of situations, especially if you hand over your phone to kids (and strangers). App Pinning allows you to lock your phone to a single app. The user will only be able to use a specific app on your Android phone.
To use App Pinning, go to Settings → Security → Advanced Settings → App Pinning. Next time you hand over your phone to someone else, go to the System Overview screen, long-press the app icon, and then select Pin. Once you select this, the user won't be able to use any other app on your phone. Notifications are also disabled in this mode. To unpin an app, press and hold the Back and Overview button of your Android smartphone and then enter the lock screen password.
These are some of the Android settings you should look out for. Taking small steps and changing such privacy settings are some of the small steps you can take to ensure your data is safe and protected. Do you know of any Android privacy settings that we missed out on? Drop a comment and let us know!