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How to make sure your phone isn’t being snooped on

Our smartphones are the epicenter of our digital lives. It’s no wonder we go through so much pain to protect them from spyware and other bad actors. We’ve been over some of the ways you can protect your phone from hackers and scammers, but some of the biggest threats to your privacy are actually a lot closer to you than you’d expect. That’s right, we’re talking about nosy loved ones and curious bystanders.

Regardless of your personal situation, everybody deals with intrusive people in their lives. Some folks just can’t mind their own business, even if they don’t mean anything bad by it. Your kids, for example, shouldn’t be reading your private messages. Why not give yourself peace of mind and keep your information private?

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to keep the data on your phone hidden from bystanders and snoopers. Not only are these tricks useful at warding off sneaky bystanders, they’re great data protection tips in general — helping you live a safer, more secure life with technology.

How to know if your phone has been used without your knowledge

If you suspect that someone has been snooping on your phone, it’s worth examining your device for signs of intrusion. Whether they’re grabbing your phone when you’re not around or installing spy apps to monitor you remotely, there’s a few telltale signs that point to unauthorized use.

For starters, you’ll want to check out your data use. This is one of the best ways to catch sneaky kids or grandkids in the act of messing with your phone. You can see your data use in two primary locations: your smartphone’s settings and your phone bill. On iOS, you can find this information under Settings > Cellular and under the tab “Usage.” On Android, simply tap Settings > Data Usage.

If your data usage is unusually high, that can indicate it’s not you that’s been doing all that streaming.

Another useful method is checking your web browsing history and recently opened apps. This isn’t quite as foolproof as checking data usage since histories can be erased, but it’s still worth looking into.

Finally, keeping tabs on your battery health is an important way to gauge phone usage. If you set your phone down at 90% and come back to a battery level of 80%, your battery is either faulty or someone is using your phone without your knowledge. Just like with data use, you can’t hide battery drainage except by recharging the phone.

To that effect, make sure you know where your phone is when its charging.

How to prevent someone from snooping on your phone

Prevention is the best cure, and keeping your phone under your control is the best way to protect your private information. These steps can help you keep tabs on your device, lock it from intruders, and limit what people who use your phone can access in the first place.

1. Know where your phone is

One of the best things you can do to keep your data private is actually one of the easiest. Keeping your phone on-hand prevents any sneakier residents of your home from making away with it, for example. Have a kid who loves to buy game apps on your phone when you’re not looking? Keep your phone in your pocket or bag and they won’t know where to begin.

Logic dictates, if you have your phone handy, others won’t be able to use it. The best ways to keep your phone on your person is in your pockets, but thanks to far too many clothing designers, that’s not always an option. Using a bag or pouch is the next best thing you can do.

Speaking of clothing — since it happens far too often, it’s worth mentioning that you should never keep your phone in your shirt or bra. Many gym-goers and athletes use this trick to keep their phone nearby while working out, only to find that their phone doesn’t turn on again. Sweat can damage the phone’s delicate electronics, so even if a fanny-pack looks worse, it’s safer to use for phone storage.

If you’re ever at a point where you can’t locate your device, most smartphones these days have built-in trackers that let you log in and pinpoint the location on a map. Apple and Samsung use Find My iPhone and Find My Mobile, respectively, but if you have a different phone manufacturer, it’s worth visiting their website to see what kind of tracking features they offer, if any.

2. Lock it up!

Keeping your phone password protected used to be something only the tech savvy and ultra-paranoid did. Nowadays, it might as well be mandatory! If an unwanted person got their hands on your phone, your data is safe provided your phone is securely locked with passwords, codes, or biometrics.


Related: How to properly secure your Android to keep snoops out


Most phones guide you through the process of creating a passcode lock when you first set up your device. It’s recommended you choose a complex passcode to throw off potential snoops, but if that’s too difficult, one of the best options you can choose is a six digit passcode.

Not only will six numbers be easier to remember, but a code of six numbers between 0 and 9 equals 1,000,000 potential combinations. Anyone trying to brute-force guess your code will be at it for a long, long time.

If you go with a numeral passcode, make sure that it’s not something super easy to guess like a string of numbers in a sequence (1-2-3-4-5-6,) or personal information like a birthday.

3. Keep your notification screen clean

The notification screen is where all the action happens on your phone. It’s how the device alerts you of updates you’ve gotten while you weren’t looking, such as social media comments, text messages, missed calls, and emails.

Were someone able to glance at your full notification screen, they may end up learning a good deal about your daily doings and personal life. Keeping this information secure is important to do and easy to set up.

For Android, go to Settings and open up “notifications settings.” Click on the gear icon and tap “On the lock screen.” Here, you can choose to not show any notifications, show all notifications, or hide sensitive notifications. This option hides content of emails and texts but keeps the subject or contact’s name.

On iPhone, you’ll want to open Settings and tap “Notifications.” Click on “Show Previews,” and you can choose to show them all the time, only when the phone is unlocked, or never.

You can also set specifics for certain apps that may require more attention from you, such as urgent emails. For privacy, your best bet is to just set notifications for when your phone is unlocked. As we mentioned above, nobody can snoop if your phone is locked up.

4. Keep it quiet

The noises of your phone can be a telltale sign of what you’re doing. Most apps have a signature notification noise that helps you know which apps need attention — even when they’re not looking.

These sounds, however, have gotten less-careful people in trouble. Some dating apps make very specific alert noises, which have tipped off unwitting spouses about their partner’s illicit activities. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

To keep nosy people from knowing what you’re doing on your phone, the best thing to do is turn the phone to Silent Mode. Most phones have a toggle on the side, but you can also get your phone to be silent by turning the volume switch all the way down.

5. Put limits on how you share your phone

If the kids or a friend want to briefly use your phone, there are ways to let them do it without completely exposing yourself

On iPhones, a feature called Guided Access restricts access on the phone to apps of your choosing. To set up Guided Access, open Settings, tap General, and tap Accessibility. In this menu, you’ll find an option called “Guided Access.” When you activate it, you can set a passcode to disable the function once your phone is back in hand. You can also set time limits, alert sounds, and more.

Limiting Android features works a little differently thanks to a feature called Screen Pinning. This locks your phone into one app of your choosing until you enter a passcode.

In order to set up Screen Pinning, open your security settings, select “Screen pinning,” and turn it on. From here, you can activate Screen Pinning at any time by touching the square button at the bottom-right of the screen, and looking for the little blue pin icon on the app you’re in. Tap the pin and the app locks to your screen, limiting access to the rest of your phone. To exit, you’ll just need to enter your passcode.

Your privacy is vital, but it’s up to you how far you decide to take it. Ultimately, you’re more likely to get spied on by friends and loved ones than a hacker, so always be aware of where your phone is and what your kids are doing with it.

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