In today’s ever-evolving world of tech no protection is fullproof, neither is there a way of telling at face value if an app is tracking you, even when you say stop. DID YOU KNOW: that over 1,000 apps that “bent the rules” have violated your privacy, even when you told them not to? These apps have gathered precise geolocation data, all the private and personal stuff you have on your phone — names, dates, password and credit card information, the location of everywhere you go. Photos of the people in your life without the owners’ knowledge.
Here’s how you can protect your data when using these apps:
Use a password manager
The strongest passwords are random strings of characters. A series of letters, numbers and symbols in no particular order is less likely to be found in the dictionary and harder for a computer to crack with brute force. The downside is that these complex passwords are much harder to remember.
This is where a password manager app comes in handy. Password managers keep all your passwords in one encrypted and password-protected app. They also generate and remember strong passwords. While apps like Google Chrome and Samsung’s proprietary phone app will offer to save passwords for you, security experts always go to the password manager.
It’s also best to avoid using the same password for multiple accounts. If one account is compromised in a data breach, all the accounts are compromised. With a password manager, each one of your accounts can have a different, complex and hard-to-crack password. Some will even generate passwords for you.
Use a VPN on public Wi-Fi
If you’re going to get on a public Wi-Fi network while on your phone instead of using your mobile data, experts suggest using a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN can keep your data from being snooped on by other people lurking on the same public network. They can also mask your data transmissions, avoid filtering and censorship on the internet and allow you to access a wider variety of content around the world.
For our purposes, it can shield you from having to get on a free public network that others can use to gain access to your phone. When looking for a provider, it’s important to research the company to find out if it’s well-known and trustworthy. The Apple App Store and the Google Play Store have dozens of VPN apps that are free, but some have questionable practices, so take care.
Regardless of how frequently you plan to use a VPN, it’s important to read through the service agreement so you know what data might be collected and where it will be stored.
Be mindful of app permissions
One tip that almost all of the experts mentioned was double checking which permissions the app asks for. You should also ask yourself whether it makes sense for an app to ask for certain permissions. An app asking for access to data that isn’t relevant to its function is a major warning sign.
If you’re downloading a simple app for a pocket calculator for instance and the app is requesting access to your contact list and location, ask yourself – why would a calculator need to see your contact list and location? Requests like that should ring some alarm bells.
In addition to paying attention to permissions that you grant to an app, it’s also important to monitor how your phone behaves after you download it. Drastic changes in your device’s battery life are another red flag, since malicious apps can constantly run in the background.
Research the app or company
While you can’t tell at face value if an app has sinister motives, a quick Googlesearch can supply more information. Search the name of the app and the phrase “data scandal” or “scam.” The results should tell you if the company has experienced any recent privacy or data leaks.
This search should also tell you if data breaches are a common occurrence at that company and, if they have experienced any, how they have responded to them. If the company has been affected several times and done nothing to address the problem, steer clear of the app — it suggests that they aren’t taking the issue seriously.
It’s wise to avoid an app if it’s the only one a developer has produced or if the developer was responsible for any other shady apps.
Limit social media exposure
Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data scandal put the popular social network in hot water. But even people who’ve freed themselves of Facebook’s siren call after the fallout (or never created a profile in the first place) might still be at risk for privacy invasion. If you appear on a friend or family member’s account, you’re still visible online. After those accounts are observed, companies can construct a “shadow profile” that details a person’s likes, dislikes, political leanings, religious beliefs and more.
It’s wise to limit the amount of information you share on social media, regardless of what the site asks for on your profile. The more information you share, the more data that’s available to create advertisements for you. Only fill out the absolute minimum amount of information necessary. The more information is at risk in the event of a data breach.
Keep software up to date
Making time to update your smartphone’s operating system (OS) is critical to keeping your data safe. The updates let you stay a step ahead of hackers and the latest exploits they’re spreading across the internet. Adjust your phone’s settings so it’ll update automatically.
Think of software updates like vaccinations for your smartphone. The methods that criminals use to hack into your phone and steal your data are constantly evolving, so the ways that we protect our smartphones need to evolve too.
Only download apps from Google and Apple’s stores
Not all the apps in the App Store or the Google Play store are 100% trustworthy, but you should still download only from the official stores, rather than side-load an app.
Downloading an app from unofficial or insecure sites increases the risk of ransomware, malware, spyware and trojan viruses infecting your device. In the worst case scenario, the hacker can take full control of your device.