Default settings are a blessing and a curse. If you haven’t started customizing your devices, it’s great to have the creator-recommended settings to begin with, but these aren’t always in your best interest. Sometimes, they may value features above battery life, or could be sharing your information without explicitly asking you.
No matter what mobile platform you’re using, there are some options you should tweak for increased security and privacy. If you’re not used to diving into your phone’s settings, don’t worry! We’ll walk you through how to reach each setting.
For All Devices
Before we get to the settings in Android, iOS, and Windows Phone specifically, there are some settings across devices that should be enabled no matter what.
Set A Screen Lock
A screen lock is your most basic line of defense to keep unwanted parties out of your phone. Whether it’s stopping your friends from snooping on your photos or keeping your information safe should you lose your device, the second of inconvenience that you deal with typing in a passcode is worth it. Different operating systems have varying options; here we’ll set up a PIN since it’s supported by all, is easy to remember, and is secure (unlike a pattern lock).
On Android, head to Settings > Security > Screen Lock and from here, you can choose a PIN of four numbers or more. On iOS, you’ll find the same setting at Settings > Passcode. It’s a good idea to make sure that you require the passcode immediately on both devices, so there’s no delay if you lock your phone and then walk away. You can also deny access to certain features from the lock screen if you’re concerned about them.
For Windows Phone, journey to Settings > Lock Screen and find the Password option at the bottom. Tip: don’t use the PIN shown in this example!
Opt Out Of Ad Tracking
Advertising is a huge business. We’ve written before about how online ads are used to target you and this goes even further with social media ads. You have to expect a level of this behavior while using the Internet, but there are ways to limit how much information is collected about you.
For Windows Phone, go to Settings again, this time to the Advertising ID tab. It’s a simple entry that only allows you to toggle targeted advertising on or off; you should disable it so you’re not being tracked. For iOS, you’ll find the option under Settings > Privacy > Advertising. Here, enable the Limited Targeted Advertising setting to reduce tracking.
Google created a separate app, Google Settings, to manage your account on Android. Besides being a place to disable battery-sucking Google services, you can also find your advertising preference here at Ads > Opt out of interest-based ads. Using this option will reduce the great amount of information that Google knows about you.
Find Your Phone
In the old days of mobile OSes, you had to install a separate app to track your phone if you lost it. Now, however, all three platforms have a built-in method to locate your device if it should go missing. It’s crucial that you activate these; if you don’t, you may be left without options if your phone is stolen or lost.
On iOS, pay a visit to Settings > iCloud > Find My iPod/iPhone/iPad. Once this set-and-forget option is enabled, you can view the its location anytime by installing the Find My iPhone app on another Apple device, or by visiting the web interface. Apple has provided more info if you’re interested in the specifics; if your phone was stolen check out Tim’s tips on what actions to take.
For Windows Phone, you’ll find the option at Settings > Find My Phone. Choose to toggle the two options here if you like, then you can use the website to track your phone’s location, ring it, or erase it remotely.
On Android, visit our friend Google Settings again, and browse this time to Android Device Manager. Be sure that the top box is checked; the bottom is a last-resort should you give up hope on finding your phone, so you should enable just in case. Like iOS, you can visit the Android Device Manager online or download its app onto another Android-powered device.
Don’t Save Passwords In Browser
It’s tempting to use the “Remember Password” option that mobile browsers provide since typing out passwords on a small keyboard can be frustrating. However, this convenience is a safety risk, as anyone who grabs your phone can poke around and see which sites you’re already logged into. Keep an eye out for these pop-ups and be sure to deny them.
To clear out any existing passwords, on iOS go to Settings > Safari > Passwords & AutoFill. Here, be sure that you check “Saved Passwords” for any entries; it’s also wise to remove your credit card info from storage if it’s there.
On Windows Phone, you’ll need to go to Settings, slide over to Applications > Internet Explorer and choose Advanced Settings at the bottom. Make sure that Don’t Remember is selected under Website Passwords. If you already have some saved and want to start fresh, back up one level to Internet Explorer’s settings and choose to Delete History.
For Android, open Chrome and click the three-dot Menu bar in the top-right. Choose Settings and under Save Passwords you can view any that you’ve set to remember or never remember. You can also turn the feature off from here.
Once you’ve done all this, it’s a great idea to get set up with LastPass, which includes mobile support in its $12/year Premium option that we’ve reviewed. When all of your passwords are encrypted behind a master password instead of being insecurely stored on your phone, you’ll be much safer.
We’ve written about backing up your Windows Phone, a smartphone running Android, or iPhone, and each strategy contains a variety of apps to help you do the job. However, each OS also includes a few built-in settings you want to be sure to activate in the event that you have to wipe your phone. Note that these will not back up everything of value on your phone, so they should only be viewed as one piece of your backup plan.
For Android, the appropriate setting is at Settings > Backup & Reset. Check the boxes here to be sure that if you ever get a new phone, your app data and Wi-Fi passwords will be intact. On iOS, Settings > iCloud will get you where you need to be. You can choose which types of data are backed up to iCloud; it’s a good idea to send everything up unless you’re low on space. Whatever you choose, be sure that the Backup option is enabled near the bottom!
The Windows Phone entry is aptly-named; head to Settings > Backup and confirm that your device is backing up for you. If you need to tweak a category, press it for more options.
Individual OS Settings
Most iOS apps will ask you for a variety of permissions, from accessing your photos to your location. Sometimes you want to share these for the app to function, but you might be wary of other apps, such as Facebook Messenger. To review permissions you’ve granted apps, you can head to Settings > Privacy to view permission groups. With iOS 8, you’re also able to scroll to the bottom of the page at Settings and view each app separately. Both will show you the same information; the only difference is whether you prefer to group by app (below right) or by permission type (below left).
Finally, for iOS you can tweak all of your location-sharing information in one place. It’s buried at Settings > Privacy > Location Services; scroll all the way down to System Services. Here’s you’ll have plenty of options. It’s a good idea to shut off location-based ads and location sharing if you don’t need it, but using your location for time zones isn’t a privacy concern. Make sure to leave Find my iPhone enabled here, too!
For even more iOS settings to play with, check out Tim’s list of pesky iOS 7 defaults.
Android has a reputation for being filled with viruses. While that’s not exactly true, there are threats out there and so being educated about smartphone security is a must. To start, a biggie is to make sure your phone won’t allow apps to be installed from outside Google Play. There are legitimate alternatives to Google Play, but keeping the option open while you’re not specifically using it is a security flaw.
A trip to Settings > Security > Unknown Sources will be all you need; keep this box unchecked and while you’re here, be sure that Verify Apps is enabled to scan any installed apps against known threats.
Also in the Security section of Settings is the Device Administration list. Know that any apps listed here require permissions greater than most Android apps. An example is the Android Device Manager we discussed earlier; it needs to be set as an admin to be able to remotely wipe your phone.
Take a look at this list and be sure that you’ve explicitly enabled all of them and they’re still relevant. If you’re ever prompted to make an app an administrator, do some research first to be sure it’s legitimate.
All Android users should know about permissions and why they’re so critical to your phone’s operation. They’re different from iOS, so be sure to read Chris’ guide to Android permissions.
Aside from the above, Windows Phone doesn’t have a lot of settings that need to be changed. The only noticeable option is the useful Kid’s Corner. The official video does a great job of explaining it.
Children seem to be drawn to smartphones, but letting them wander on them can lead to problems, particularly with ads and in-app purchases. The solution is Kid’s Corner, which allows you to set certain apps for your kids to use and doesn’t let them use anything else, like the browser or shop. To set it up, just go to Settings > Kid’s Corner and you’ll be able to add permitted apps. Be sure you have a PIN enabled when using this option, or else there’s nothing stopping your child from getting into your full phone!
Going through a list of settings may be kind of bland, but you’ll be glad you took advantage of these options. It would be nice if the default settings were the safest, but unfortunately convenience is usually valued above privacy.
If you’re looking for more phone security tips, check out ten common mistakes that open you up to risk.
What other settings are crucial to change? Will you be adjusting your settings? Leave a comment and let us know!