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Smartphones & gadgets

Security tip: Check your Android app permissions

You’ve probably done some serious spring cleaning during the quarantine. If you’re only focused on clearing out your closets and storage spaces, you’re missing out on a great opportunity.

What about cleaning up tech around your house, too? Tap or click here for 10 tech spring cleaning tips. And, when is the last time you checked the permissions for apps on your Android devices?

Doing so will not only keep apps from collecting data you don’t want them to have, but it will also help prevent them from tracking your activity. Plus, it’s always a good idea to make sure the apps on your phone are organized and up to date, just like your wardrobe.

Why you should check app permissions

If you’re using an Android phone, it’s important to know that many of the apps from the Google Play Store are tracking your information or location without your consent. We recently told you about a bunch of apps that were caught doing just this. Tap or click here for details.

Not only are those apps gathering data or tracking you — but they’re also designed to be obscure about it. This is an issue for a number of reasons: not only should you be clear about where your information is going, but you should be skeptical of any app that’s purposely being obtuse about why they need that information.

Related: Find out if your passwords are secure

This type of tracking is often used for advertising to target demographics, but it’s also an invasion of privacy and it could put your personal information at risk. There are a number of permissions apps will ask for, including access to your:

  • Body Sensors
  • Calendar
  • Camera
  • Contacts
  • Location
  • Microphone
  • Phone
  • SMS
  • Storage

You need to be careful about what permissions you grant your apps. If you aren’t checking in on your app permissions, you could end up on the wrong end of a data breach or have apps on your phone that are feeding information to marketing and advertising companies without your consent.

How to check and change app permissions

Given the fact that the apps on your phone may be accessing information you don’t want them to have, it’s important to check each app to see what it has access to — and then change it if it’s not something you want it set to.

Before you change any permissions, though, you’re going to want to check to see which operating system you’re using because you’ll need to be using Android 6.0 or later to do this.

As you likely know, there are a ton of different versions of the Android operating systems, and what you’re using will depend on the age of your phone, among other things.

To see which Android OS version you have:

  1. Open your phone’s Settings app.
  2. Near the bottom, tap System > Advanced > System update.
  3. Here, you’ll find the Android version and security patch level.

If you find that you’re using an older version of Android, you may have the option to update it. However, if your phone is relatively old you may not have the option to upgrade.

Most Android updates are done automatically, but you can check for security updates (or other OS updates) that may not have automatically updated by using your Settings menu.

Check for an update to your OS:

  1. Open your device’s Settings app.
  2. Tap Security.
  3. Check for an update:
    To check if a security update is available, tap Security update.
    To check if a Google Play system update is available, tap Google Play system update.
  4. Follow any steps on the screen.

Once you’re sure the operating system is up to date, it’s time to check and change the permissions on your apps. You can do this after apps are installed, but it’s best to do it before you install an app.

When you download apps from the Play Store, some will ask for permission to your camera or other phone features before you install them. When you download apps that are built for Android 6.0 and up, you can allow or deny permissions once you start using them.

To check permissions when you install an app:

  1. Open the Play Store app.
  2. Go to the app’s detail page. To review permissions before installing, scroll to Developer > Permission details.
  3. Tap Install.
    • Some apps will install right away. When you use an app, you can allow or deny individual permission requests before the app uses that type of data.
    • For other apps, Google Play shows you all of the permission groups an app will be able to access before you install them.

For instant apps

  1. On your Android device, open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Apps & notifications which will show recently opened apps at the top.
  3. Tap the app you want to see more about.
  4. Look under Permissions.

If you’re trying to check the permissions on apps you’ve already installed, the process involves a few different steps. You’re going to want to check these apps, too — not just the apps you’re downloading — because you may find that many of them will have been granted permissions you don’t want them to have.

To check permissions on apps you’ve already downloaded:

  1. On your Android device, open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Apps & notifications.
  3. Tap the app you want to update.
  4. Tap Permissions.
  5. Choose which permissions you want the app to have, like Camera or Phone.
  6. Remove any permissions you don’t want the app to have, or delete the app altogether if it seems like it’s asking for too many permissions and you aren’t comfortable with it.

You can also check which apps have particular permissions to things like your camera or location all at once. If you’re concerned about the apps that are tracking your location, for instance, and want to remove any location permissions, you’ll follow the process below.

To see all apps on your device that can access particular permissions:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Apps & notifications > Advanced App permissions.
  3. Select a permission, like Calendar, Location, or Phone.
  4. Choose which apps should have access to that permission and remove the permissions for the ones that shouldn’t.

It’s important to keep an eye on these types of things, especially if you’re concerned about your apps tracking personal data. Nobody likes to be spied on, and that’s basically what these apps are doing when they are gathering data about you without permission.

So, take the time to look them over and remove any permissions you aren’t comfortable with. It’s a bit of a hassle, but it will protect your private information in the long run.

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