Android and privacy – these are the two words that don’t go together. Many users choose Apple’s iPhone (and iOS) solely because of the company’s data and privacy claims. However, the situation has improved in recent years. Google has added several privacy settings to Android to protect user data over the past few years. Here are some of the best Android privacy settings you should know about.
To note: Some settings may vary depending on Android version and device type. It’s best to search for a particular setting if you can’t spot it directly.
Protect your digital privacy on Android
1. Check Android app permissions
A super useful Android setting that is often overlooked is the operating system’s built-in permissions manager. Android lets you see precisely what permissions installed apps have access to and what they’re using in the background. You should keep an eye on these permissions and make sure apps only have access to the resources they need. To manage app permissions on your Android smartphone, follow these steps:
- To open Settings and scroll down until you see the Privacy menu.
- In the Privacy settings, select Authorization manager.
- Here you can manage the resources each app can access.
Scroll through the list of permissions and see which app accesses which resource and how often it accesses it. If you spot something wrong, click on the app and block it from accessing that particular permission.
2. Browse the web with more privacy
- Enable privacy settings on default browser (Chrome): Google Chrome comes pre-installed as the default web browser on most Android smartphones. Google’s web browser incorporates a feature called Enhanced Safe Browsing that protects users from dangerous downloads and malicious websites. However, Google says it collects more data when Enhanced Safe Browsing is enabled, which makes many users reluctant to use this option. Nevertheless, here is how you can enable Enhanced Safe Browsing on Google Chrome for Android:
- To open Google Chrome and press the three points in the upper right corner.
- Now select Settings → Privacy and Security → Safe Browsing.
- To select Improved Safe Browsing.
- Use a privacy-focused web browser: Google Chrome, although the default browser on most Android smartphones, is not the best privacy-focused web browser. Fortunately, a number of privacy-focused web browsers are available on the Google Play Store. Brave and Firefox are some of the browsers I generally prefer, but you can also upgrade to DuckDuckGo which also offers Apple’s app tracking transparency.
3. Use private DNS
The Domain Name System or DNS, for those who don’t know, is the directory of the Internet that allows your Android device to translate human-readable website names (such as Google.com) into their IP adress. 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 the DNS on your Android device:
- To open Settings then head 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, type
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 service accesses sensitive resources, the device’s camera, location, and microphone. A green colored dot should appear towards the top right corner of your device each time it is accessed. While it’s normal for apps like Google, Instagram, and Snapchat to access these resources when you’re using them, if you spot a random app accessing these features in the background, you should immediately stop it from doing so (use the first tip to disable the app from using the resource).
5. Use the Approximate Location setting
Another nifty privacy feature 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 weather converter. Here’s how to enable this option:
- To open Settings and head to Privacy → Permissions Manager.
- Then select Location and now select the app.
- On the next screen, disable the Use specific location to fall over.
6. Opting out of targeted ads
Google and other companies collect a lot of data when you use an app. This data, in turn, is used to display targeted advertisements. One way to prevent apps and websites from showing you targeted ads is to turn off ad personalization. To turn off ad personalization on Android, go to Settingsto select Googleso Ads, and turn it off. While you are in this setting, you should also consider pressing the button Reset Advertising ID to completely dissociate your Android smartphone from your Google ads profile.
7. Uninstall Unused Apps
If you’ve been using your Android smartphone for a long time, you might have quite a few apps on your smartphone that you don’t use regularly. You should consider uninstalling these apps because 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 are running in the background (without you even knowing it). These apps can collect and share your personal data, so it is 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 notify you if it detects anything suspicious. Even though the feature works automatically in the background, you should consider running manual scans from time to time. 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 Application Security), then press Analysis.
9. Hide Sensitive Notifications on Lock Screen
Android displays all notifications on the lock screen by default. This means that if your phone accidentally falls into the wrong hands, they could have access to some personal and sensitive information. In such cases, it is better to disable the display of notifications on the lock screen. To do this, go to Settings → Privacy → Lock screen notifications. You can now opt for Show sensitive content only when unlocked – which will only show notifications considered “non-sensitive” by the Android OS – or you can choose to hide all notifications by selecting Do not show notifications at all.
10. Perform a Google Security Check
Most often, your Android device is at risk due to your Google account settings. You can manage your account security settings directly on your Android device. Go to Settings → Security then select Google Security Checkup. Here you can see if your account is at risk. For example, I had forgotten to check the “recovery email” of my main Google account. Google informed me of this directly during the Google Security Check-Up.
11. Make sure Find My Device is set up correctly
Like Apple, Google also offers a service, called Find My Device, which allows you to track your Android device if it is lost or stolen. You can also lock and erase your data from the device using the “Lock and Erase” feature offered by Find My Device. 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. This can be useful in a number of situations, especially if you give your phone to children (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 give your phone to someone else, go to the System Overview screen, long press the app icon, then select Pin. Once this option is selected, the user will no longer be able to use any other application on your phone. Notifications are also disabled in this mode. To unpin an app, press and hold the Back and Preview buttons on your Android smartphone, then enter the lock screen password.
Here are some of the Android settings you should look out for. Taking small steps and changing these privacy settings are some of the small steps you can take to keep your data safe and secure. Do you know of any Android privacy settings we missed? Leave a comment and let us know!