Smartphones and Privacy: Everything You Need to Know

Even though you open your phone with a fingerprint, most people realize that smartphones can have plenty of security gaps. Cybercriminals aren’t interested in your Candy Crush high score. That said, your phone could represent a security threat. From banking info to master passwords, there are vulnerabilities you should be aware of. Bottom line? Some phone privacy concerns are warranted.  In the good old days, phones had limited capabilities. The worst thing that could happen is you’d get tapped. Unless you were discussing super-sensitive information over the phone, there wasn’t much to worry about.  In the age of smartphones though, things have changed. If not managed properly, these devices can become a privacy nightmare. 

Your Smartphone and Your Data

When it comes to the types of data that smartphones can collect, voice data is the least of your concerns. Smart devices are always collecting data, whether you know it or not. Here are the top ways your smartphone is a potential spy in your pocket: Browsing history—just like any other device you use to browse the internet or do any other online activity, smartphones are collecting data. Everything from the websites you open to the posts you interact with is recorded.  While most of this data is collected anonymously, some people still consider this a breach of their privacy. If you’ve ever wondered how Chrome or Safari serves you eerily specific ads, now you know. Tracked data is used by marketing professionals, which also means it’s public knowledge and can be used for less convenient reasons. Geotracking—it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t use GPS (Global Positioning System) nowadays. Being able to identify location is a fundamental way that smartphones work. Applications like Google Maps, Uber, Lyft, and many others rely on the GPS capabilities of your phone to function. And, as you’ve probably guessed, different companies collect this data for different purposes. This includes everything from consumer behavior analysis to location-based advertisement. Some of this is helpful but also means that your location is on display to a lot of different companies, not all of whom are just trying to find you the nearest Starbucks. Microphone eavesdropping—if you think your microphone is only active when you’re making calls, think again. If you have a voice assistant like Siri or Google Assistant activated, your microphone is always listening for that “Hey Siri” or “Hey Google”. That is, of course, in addition to everything else you say around that phone. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I feel that my phone is listening to everything I say and showing me relevant ads”, you’re not paranoid. Your phone is listening. And while this might not be the same as “your phone is spying on you”, it is something you should understand.  Camera activation—high-resolution photos, 4K video, ultra-wide lenses, optical zoom, taking high-quality photos in low light conditions… these are some of the capabilities you can find in many modern smartphones. While these features sound fun, they’re not as fun when someone you don’t know remotely activates the camera.  Yes, any camera on a device that’s connected to the internet can be hacked remotely without you knowing. Of course, the more careful you are, the more difficult this is for hackers to pull off. You should, however, always keep in mind that any camera in your home could be spying on you. 

Phone Privacy Concerns

It would be hard to live without a smartphone these days. Instead of going monk and getting rid of all your electronic devices, you should follow these tips to stay safe: Check your device permissions—on most smartphones, apps can’t access your phone or camera without permission. The problem is that most people are not aware of the different types of permissions they are giving to different apps. If an app doesn’t need access to your photos, microphone, or camera to work, don’t give it that access. You can find out how to see different app permissions on different devices here.   Turn off your voice assistant—as long as digital assistants like Siri and Alexa are activated on your smartphone or any other device you use, your microphone is always listening for that activation phrase. While Apple says that this listening process happens locally on your device, this is not the case once you activate the assistant.  Whatever voice assistant you use, once it’s activated, what you say will be uploaded to the company’s servers for analysis and improving the platform. While some people are ok with that, many people are not. If you’re one of the people who are not comfortable with this, you can turn off your digital assistant’s Always Attentive feature.  For more info on how to turn off these assistants, check out this guide. Download applications from legitimate sources—pirated software and suspicious applications are a great way to get hacked. These are often packed with all types of malicious software that hackers can use to spy on you and steal different types of data from your phone. Never installing apps or software from sources you don’t trust is probably the best way to protect your privacy and data. 

Protect Your Smartphone

Want a pro to look over your smartphone and give you tips on how to lock it down? Whether you are looking for a new phone, phone updates, or to fix a phone: Gadget Genie can help. Our team of experts has all of the knowledge and insight you need to set up devices in a way that doesn’t imperil your peace of mind. Give us a call, email or live chat us online to get an appointment or more info.

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