As I said in my previous blog on this topic, privacy seems an out-dated concept nowadays. We have made huge leaps in technology over the past few years, most of which have involved developing new ways of sharing information between us. This is a positive – increased social connections have to be good for us, as an inherently social species. Yet there is another more worrying aspect to this world wide information sharing technology. Every social media account we create, every app we download, every phone, computer, and tablet we interact with take more and more information from us. This lack of privacy is becoming a big concern and we all, probably, need to take some positive action to protect ourselves from the negative side of information-sharing. How can you protect your privacy in this surveillance age? The actions we can take will depend upon the kind of connected devices we are using. In this blog, I’ll focus on mobile devices – Android and IOS phones or tablets. A closer look at computer privacy will be the subject of the next blog.
a) Google Android Devices
Android software from Google is used on the largest number of phones around the world, and even beyond mobile phones, Google privacy settings are important things to attend to. Here are some ideas for how to protect your privacy while using android devices.
Google is a search engine first and foremost, so the most common way it collects data from you is by recording your searches and the web pages you visit. To manage all this information there are a couple of things you can do.
(i) Delete all Google activity on your phone or on your computer
- Use your web browser to go myactivity.google.com.
- There are 3 types of activity on the main part of the page, each with a check circle which you can click.
- These are Web & app activity, Location History and YouTube History. If the circles are marked Off, clicking them will probably take you to another web page where you can alter this is you wish.
- At the top left of the page, click or tap the Menu button (often called the ‘hamburger’ button) and then go select Delete activity by.
- In the box which pops up, you have a choice of how far back you want to go in terms of deleting activity. Click/tap your choice.
- Confirm your deletion on the next page.
(ii) App Permissions
Most of the apps that you download from the Google Playstore are safe to use, although you may feel a little uncomfortable about giving them too much access to the information on your phone. In this event, you can change the permissions you give to these apps from your phone’s settings menu.
(iii) Location Information
Many of us find Google maps a very useful tool, but what we may not know is that, if your phone’s GPS is turned on, Google maps is keeping track of all the places we visit. This is good if you need to establish an alibi in a police investigation but not if you are not comfortable sharing wherever you’ve been. Luckily it can be switched off in your Google privacy settings.
Keeping in sync
All Android devices have the ability to sync your phone with your Google account. This gives Google access to information such as your contacts, with their phone numbers, addresses and emails. It also gives Google access to your calendar and any information you may have stored there. Again, if you are not comfortable sharing all this information, you do have the option to un-sync your phone in the settings menu. It’s even simpler to do this if you go through the Chrome app on your phone.
Amazon’s Alexa is a very popular virtual assistant that responds to voice commands to perform different activities. Connecting it to a smart device, you can use it to switch lights on or off, control your central heating, or choose music to listen to. Undoubtedly the potential of Alexa will grow over time, although for the moment I suspect that its main use is as a joke-telling, weather reporting music speaker.
There is, however, some controversy about how to protect your privacy with Alexa and there have been reports that the Alexa also hears and records all voices in its environment and that nobody is quite sure where these voice recordings end up. It is possible to change Alexa’s privacy settings to ensure that nobody has access to your conversations with or around Alexa.
Alexa Privacy Settings
You can limit Alexa’s ability to record voices by using the privacy settings in the Alexa app or on the website.
- Go to https://alexa.amazon.co.uk/spa/index.html#cards. You will need to sign in with your Amazon name and password.
- Click on settings in the left hand menu.
- Scroll down the main page to find Alex Privacy and click this. This open a new webpage.
- In the left side menu click on Manage Your Alexa Data.
- This takes you to a page where you can make a number of changes to the ways that Alexa manages your voice recordings.
- Load the Alexa app and tap the More button at the bottom right of the screen.
- Select Settings and tap.
- Tap on Alexa Privacy.
- This takes you to a web page which looks exactly the same as that on the computer (only smaller). Select Manage Your Alexa Data.
- Make the choices you need to make.
c) iOS Devices
iOS devices are less profligate with user information than their Alexa counterparts, but they still do share some data with Apple, which you may not be comfortable with.
(i) Unsync your iPhone
iPhones are heavily synced to iCloud and store data with that service which goes beyond just photos and videos to include messages, contacts and emails. You may not want this information to be stored on a cloud server, especially in light of the fact that Apple can access any of this information if it wishes to. To stop this syncing is fairly simple.
- Go to the Settings menu on your iPhone or iPad.
- Tap the top entry in the menu, that will have your name on it.
- Tap the iCloud entry in the next menu.
- Here you will find a long list of all the apps on your phone that use iCloud.
You can turn all these off if you wish.
- This will prevent any future information being uploaded.
- To delete information that has previously been uploaded you will need to go through the iCloud main website (on a computer probably). Go to: https://www.icloud.com/ and sign in with your Apple ID.
- This will eventually bring you to the standard iCloud menu where you can explore and delete any of your data.