Your life is on your phone. It has a record of everyone you talk to or message with. It has your browsing history, your emails, your banking app and your photos. At any given moment, you are only one passcode away from spilling all your private information.
Everyone’s situation is different. You may have a nosy roommate. Maybe your spouse is paranoid. Maybe your teenager is feeling rebellious. It’s uncomfortable to imagine, but people do strange things when they’re not being watched, even the people we know and trust. Even if this never happens, you may just want to give yourself some peace of mind.
A few easy steps can help you lock down your phone. These tips are useful for preventing snooping at home, but they will also help keep strangers' eyes off your personal information when you’re out in public or traveling.
1. Keep track of your phone
Your roommate, spouse, or friend who’s over for a visit can’t snoop on your phone if there’s no opportunity to do it. Keep your phone on your person. Get in the habit of carrying it with you or keeping it in your pocket or bag.
But really, someone doesn’t need to even peek in your phone. There are apps that use GPS to track a phone's location, gives you a full log of all calls sent and received, and even show you text messages and web activity. This information is available online after you create an account. Curious? Click here for a free app that will let you track a phone’s location, messages, web activity, and more.
But even if you’re vigilant, you’re still likely to leave your phone lying on a counter or couch, where anyone can find it. So you’re wise to snoop-proof your device. Keep reading, and you’ll be all the wiser.
2. Put it on lockdown
Your most basic line of defense from prying eyes is to simply lock your phone. You may choose to use a passcode, a fingerprint, a pattern, or Face ID (if you have an iPhone X). Fingerprints and face scans are a particularly good idea since they can’t be overcome by just guessing at them.
Check your settings to see how long your phone remains unlocked before it requires your passcode again. You may want to shorten this time to a matter of minutes to avoid leaving your phone vulnerable if you happen to walk away and leave it sitting out. It can be a little inconvenient to have to unlock your phone all the time, but it will help keep it secure from casual snoopers.
If you use a passcode, be sure it’s something that won’t be easily guessed. Don’t use your birthdate or home address. Even better, use a longer string of numbers.
Both Android and iOS let you set passcodes with more than four digits. You’re not stuck forever with the same passcode, so change it up from time to time and ensure your privacy with some fresh numbers.
Wondering which method of locking your phone is the most secure? Click here a quick read about various ways and risks.
3. Hide your notifications from the lock screen
So you’ve got your phone protected, but notifications may still pop up on the lock screen. These may be innocuous reminders and Instagram updates, but what about flirtatious texts? Sensitive work emails? Anyone else looking at your display may see these messages, too, and make judgments about your activity.
Luckily, you can keep your lock-screen notifications private and safe from anyone peeking over your shoulder:
For Android, head to settings and open up your notifications settings. Click on the gear icon and touch “On the lock screen.” This gives you the option to not show any notifications, show all notifications, or hide just sensitive notifications. This last option will hide the content of email or message notifications. This choice is a good compromise between privacy and knowledge.
For your iPhone, head to settings and navigate to your notifications. Click on “Show Previews” and you can choose to show them always, just when the phone is unlocked, or never. The best compromise here is to just show notifications when you have unlocked your phone. You can also restrict some individual apps from showing notifications on your lock screen by heading into the notifications settings, choosing the app, and adjusting the alerts settings.
Related: Ever wonder if someone has blocked your number? Click here for some telltale signs.
4. Turn down the sound
Cell phones can be noisy devices. That typing sound, when you use the digital keyboard, is supposed to be helpful. So are the ringtone and notification pings. You have probably heard people in the street or supermarket, playing music without earphones or holding an audible conversation on speakerphone.
All of these sounds are designed to catch your attention, but they catch others’ attention as well. Strangers know when you’re receiving a call or text. They can hear the video you’re watching on YouTube. They recognize the bleeps and dings of Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. These may not qualify as “sensitive data,” but they invite others to take an interest in your smartphone activity.
In public, I strongly suggest you use earbuds for music and videos, and avoid speakerphone except in private places, like your home or car. Most people keep their ringers on low volume, and many people turn off notification sounds altogether, preferring a small vibration.
Related: I love digital tech life hacks. Click here for six I bet you’ll be glad to know about.
5. Share your phone (within limits)
If a friend or family member wants to borrow your phone, there is a quick way to loan it out without exposing your entire device.
For Android, open your security settings, select “Screen pinning,” and turn it on. Now, let’s say your roommate wants your phone to look up the answer to a trivia question. You open Chrome, touch the square button at the bottom-right of the screen, and look for the little blue pin icon on the Chrome window. Touch the pin to enable screen pinning. Now your roommate can use Chrome, but not any other apps until you unlock the phone with your passcode.
The iPhone version of this feature is called Guided Access. Head to your general settings, choose accessibility, and then select “Guided Access.” Turn it on and set a passcode. You can also elect to have a sound and notification for when the guided-access timer is running out. To try it out, open Safari, triple-click the home button and choose “guided access.” You can set a time limit if you like. Hit “start” and it will lock your iPhone into just the Safari app. When done, just triple-click the home button and enter your passcode to release the app.
You have a right to privacy on your smartphone, but it’s up to you to take steps to prevent busybodies from poking through your digital life.
What questions do you have? Call my national radio show and click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.