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Security & privacy

Have guests staying with you? How to tell if someone has been snooping on your phone

Ever have that feeling someone knows a little too much? It happens you get an ad for something you mentioned in passing to a friend. “How,” you might wonder, “did Google know I wanted to take a trip to Montana?”

Sometimes that creepy feeling is closer to home. Maybe your spouse or roommate seems too clued in and your comings and goings.

What a snoop might not realize is that their spying will leave a few tech breadcrumbs. We have a couple of clever ways you can tell if someone has been rummaging through your devices.

Step 1: Check your screen time report

Most smartphones have a built-in way to see how often you’re using each app, how much screentime you’re racking up altogether and maybe even how many times a day you unlock your phone. It’s a lot of info, and this is an excellent place to start if you suspect someone has been looking through your phone.

Take a look through your report and keep an eye out for anything strange. If you weren’t on your phone at 2 a.m., but the screen time report shows you were using Facebook then, it stands to reason it was someone else. It’s a simple process to check on either iPhone or Android.

For iPhone

You can view your activity summary in Settings > Screen Time > See All Activity. You will see a summary of your device usage for the current day or the past week. The more specific, the better.

For Android

Settings will vary based on your phone’s make and model. You can start here:

First, be sure you have the Digital Wellbeing features (including screen time) enabled. To do so, open Settings > Digital Wellbeing & parental controls. Under Your Digital Wellbeing tools, choose Show your data.

To check how much time you’ve spent in an app, open Settings > Digital Wellbeing & parental controls. You should see a chart that shows which apps you’ve had on-screen and how long each was open.

If these steps don’t work, do a quick search for “screen time report” and your phone’s model.

Step 2: Check your recently-accessed apps

If someone does get their hands on your phone, there’s a good chance they will open up apps to see who you are messaging or what you’re looking at. If you’re lucky, they won’t realize they need to go back and cover their tracks afterward.

On iPhone, there’s an app carousel that shows you which apps you have accessed recently. On a newer iPhone with Face ID, you can access this by swiping up from the bottom edge of the phone and pausing in the center of the screen. If your home has a home button, press it twice.

The carousel shows apps in chronological order, based on when they were most recently used. If you know you were playing a game the last time you opened your phone, and the most recent app is Facebook, something is afoot.

Again, steps for Android depend on what model you’re using. A good place to start is by swiping up from the bottom of your screen to the top. You should get a list of all your recently-opened apps.

Step 3: Check your browser history

Last, go into your web browser of choice. Look through the tabs to see if any you previously opened were closed or if there are new tabs open for sites you don’t remember visiting. If you use Google Chrome, you can also search through your web history from another device. Even if the local info was wiped away, your history might be recorded elsewhere.

Tap or click here for steps on checking (and deleting) everything you’ve searched for on Google.

How can you lock things down?

A spouse, roommate or friend can’t snoop on your phone if there’s no opportunity to do so. Here are a couple of simple precautions you can take.

Lock it down – Just like with your computer, you need to set a password. You may choose to use a passcode, a fingerprint, pattern or Face ID. The key is to actually use them to keep yourself safe from prying eyes. Touch and Face ID are great ways to boost security, as they can’t be guessed. They’re easy to use, too, so you won’t feel like you’re stuck entering a code all day long.

Hide your notifications – Notifications are tempting to read and can reveal a whole lot. You can hide them from your lock screen.

For Android

Head to Settings and open up Notifications. Tap on the gear icon and select “On the lock screen.” This gives you the option to not show any notifications, show all notifications or hide just sensitive notifications. 

For iPhone

Open Settings and tap Notifications. Select Show Previews, and you can choose to show them always, just when the phone is unlocked or never. App background

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