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Rein in data collection by your Android apps

Illustration of a cell phone with a bank vault lock in the center of the screen

The apps on your phone know a lot about you. Some track your location or know what websites you visit and what you view there. Others collect your personal information like your age, gender, email, phone number and address. If you’re concerned by apps collecting a lot of personal information about you,  there are ways you can limit – if not entirely halt – this data collection.

The fact that apps are collecting your personal data probably does not come as a surprise. The recent news that Russian-owned FaceApp collected and now owns access to 150 million faces and names should concern everyone. 

But what may come as a surprise is that when you install an app, you also give it access to your personal information by agreeing to a long list of terms and conditions that you probably didn’t even read – nine out of 10 people don’t.

Another surprise: Your personal information is probably being aggregated by companies like Google and Facebook to build a disturbingly accurate profile of you – your shopping habits, socioeconomic standing or political viewpoints – and used to target you with ads, rate your credit and send you political messages.

It’s called surveillance capitalism and while it seems difficult to opt-out of much of this data collection if you want to use popular phone apps, there are some steps you can take to limit the personal information that these apps collect. Here’s how to do that on an Android phone.

Control the apps that access your information

A lot of apps need access to certain information in order to work. For example, a navigation app needs access to your location. But a lot of apps want permission or access to unrelated data or information. Why does a flashlight app want access to your photo gallery?

You can control these permissions and block apps from accessing information they don’t need. Open Settings, then open Apps or Application Manager (depending on your device). Tap the app you want to check, then tap Permissions. This will show what information the app is accessing. Turn off any permissions that don’t look right. Why does that calculator app want to access your contacts? Turn it off.

There’s a useful app called Lumen Privacy Monitor, created by the International Computer Science Institute at U.C. Berkeley, which analyzes app traffic on your device and gives you control of it. Lumen shows how your apps communicate with tracking services and what personal information they’re collecting. It lets you block transmission of information by individual apps and configure app permissions to better control your personal data.

Opt out of ad personalization

Every Android device comes with a unique advertising ID. It’s an anonymous identifier that enables Google to recognize your device, watch your activity and send you targeted ads. You can easily opt out of this ad personalization. You’ll still be tracked by Google but you’ll see random ads. Open Settings and tap Google. Then tap Ads and toggle on Opt Out of Ads Personalization.

You can also reset your advertising ID. Open Settings and tap Google. Then tap Ads and then reset advertising ID. Tap OK when the confirmation box appears. This will remove all the data that has been collected by the apps on your phone. New data will be collected under your new advertising ID, so if you really want to be elusive, you should reset your advertising ID often.

Stop location tracking

A lot of apps track your location. A lot of apps – rideshare apps, navigation apps or weather apps – won’t work if they can’t track your location. 

If you want to stop location tracking anyway, open Settings. Tap Security & location, then tap Location. This will open the Location screen, where you can toggle off location tracking.

Google also pays very close attention to where you are and where you’ve been. Want to see how close? Open Google Maps (this is easiest on your PC) and click the three horizontal lines at the top left to open the dropdown menu. Click Your timeline and you can view a map of everywhere you’ve been since you opened a Google account. It is very difficult to stop Google from tracking your location. Although it can be done.

In addition to the steps above, you can take one more step: Switch to CREDO Mobile [link], the only carrier that cares about your privacy as much as you do. Here at CREDO, we take our members’ privacy rights very seriously, and we have a long record of fighting for them. Unlike other carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile, who sell their customers’ private data for profit – your data is not for sale at CREDO. No amount of money will ever change that. Learn more about how we fight for our members’ privacy rights here.