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Smartphone data privacy
© Nikolay Antonov |
Security & privacy

The hidden privacy report in your phone you should start checking

More mobile phone users are concerned about how apps access, disseminate and process their data. And with good reason, many apps have been found to extract more information than necessary.

Apple recently instituted several measures against app developers that play fast and loose with your data. The most significant change was the introduction of the App Privacy Report in iOS 15.2. But that is not the only weapon you have against data leakage.

Read on for other tools at your disposal and a new reporting function that everybody should start using.

Here’s the backstory

Last December’s iOS 15.2 signaled a turning point in Apple’s dedication to protecting your online data. Several investigations proved that many apps require permissions to access data that wasn’t needed.

For example, while a weather app needs your precise location to give you up-to-date conditions, it doesn’t need to know your email address, access your camera or read text messages. To combat that problem, Apple introduced its App Privacy Report so that you can easily see which apps are accessing what data.

To turn on the App Privacy report:

  • In Settings, tap Privacy
  • Scroll to and tap App Privacy Report
  • Tap Turn on App Privacy Report

It might take some time to gather information from the apps, but it contains many data usage points and how it is shared. For example, under the Data & Sensor Access tab, it shows how many times a specific app accessed things like your location, photos, camera, microphone and contacts. You can tap on an app to get more details.

App privacy report
Credit: Apple

The Network Activity tab is similar in that it shows you which domains apps have connected to, websites your phone accessed in the last seven days and the most contacted domains across the board for the previous seven days.

What you can do about it

Another built-in function works with the App Privacy Report to expand the data usage landscape. Before downloading an app from the official App Store, scroll down a bit, and you’ll come to an App Privacy section.

Here, the relatively-new Privacy Nutrition Labels give you a glance at what data the app links to you and how the information tracks you. You can tap on any section to get more details, but the types of data that apps may collect include:

  • Your name
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Health and fitness data
  • Payment information
  • Exact location
  • Your photos, videos or sound recordings
  • Browsing and searching history

Some apps might access your ethnic data or sexual orientation, pregnancy or childbirth information, disability or religious preference in rare instances.

Since most of this information is sensitive, you must pay attention to the Privacy Nutrition Labels in the App Store. Don’t download or use the app if you disagree with any information collected.

For apps already on your device, you can restrict or deny any app from using specific components in your phone by going back to the Privacy section in Settings. For example, to check which apps have access to your camera, scroll down in Privacy and tap Camera.

The next screen displays all the apps that have camera access by default. Go through the list and toggle the switch next to an app if you want to deny it access. Just keep in mind that some apps require specific functions to operate correctly.

While this is specific to iPhone, there is a similar app privacy function on Android called Data safety. It will give you the same type of information and will roll out over the next few weeks.

Check out this guide to learn more about Google Play’s Data safety section.

Keep reading

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