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From the beginning, personal computers have presented us with a bit of a privacy challenge. But today’s smartphones take the stakes to a new level. They store our communications, track our locations, save our contacts, log our browsing habits, handle our social networks, and so much more.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission recommends 10 steps to secure your smartphone. These include basic pointers such as setting a PIN, backing up your data, and installing updates. Some suggestions, such as not rooting your phone and only installing apps from trusted sources, are great for general users but not required. For example, flashing a custom ROM and installing software from alternative markets is the only way to break out of Google’s ecosystem.

I would consider their recommendations a starting point — a way to protect your smartphone from malicious software, thieves who want to sell your phone, and people looking to steal your passwords over unsecured Wi-Fi networks. But they won’t keep your smartphone activity private. They won’t guard you against unwanted monitoring from companies and governments. To do that, you’re going to have to give more thought to how you use your device. Here are some more steps to consider.

1. Text Using an Encrypted Messaging App

SMS messages are great because they work on any phone. It doesn’t matter what operating system you use, which carrier you’re on, or whether your phone is even smart.

One downside is that all of the information contained within these messages is unencrypted. Carriers and governments can see when you sent a message, to whom, and what you said 3 Ways To Make Your Smartphone Communications More Secure 3 Ways To Make Your Smartphone Communications More Secure Total privacy! Or so we think, as our words and information went flying through the air. Not so: First it's word of warrantless wiretapping, then it's word of newspapers, lawyers, insurers and more hacking your... Read More .

To shield your personal conversations from prying eyes, you should download an encrypted messaging app instead Forget WhatsApp: 6 Secure Communication Apps You've Probably Never Heard Of Forget WhatsApp: 6 Secure Communication Apps You've Probably Never Heard Of The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a lobby group dedicated to "defending civil liberties in the digital world". They maintain the Secure Messaging Scorecard, which makes for worrying reading for fans of instant messaging. Read More . There are two approaches to take here. Apps such as Signal and Telegram only work over a data connection, but they offer the most privacy.

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If you want the versatility that comes from using SMS, try downloading Silence. The app can’t encrypt the metadata, which shows when you sent a message and who you were talking to, but it does hide what was said.

Download — Signal for Android (Free)

Download — Telegram for Android (Free)

Download — Silence for Android (Free)

2. Make Private Calls With a Temporary Number

There’s nothing private about your phone number. Those ten digits are directly connected to your identity. For that reason, you have to be careful who you give your number to.

There are plenty of reasons to use a temporary number that have nothing to do with corporate or government surveillance. Maybe you’re going out on dates with people you’ve met online. Perhaps your phone usage is being monitored by an abusive parent or partner. Avoiding your real number can be a matter of safety.

What do you do? Install an app! Burner is an option with a name that’s as straightforward as they come.

Burner provides a real phone number (not VoIP) with a local area code. The downside — it only works in the U.S. and Canada. Fortunately there are other apps to pick from 5 Apps for Getting a Temporary Burner Phone Number 5 Apps for Getting a Temporary Burner Phone Number If you need a temporary or second phone number, you should download one of these burner apps. Read More .

Download — Burner for Android (Free)

3. Use an Offline Navigation App

Google Maps is free, and it’s reliable enough to be the navigation app most people I know depend on. I imagine the story isn’t that different for you, especially if you live in the U.S.

The service doesn’t cost money to use, but there’s a cost. Google wants information, and Maps is a treasure trove. It knows where we live, how far it is to our friends’ houses, and the places we’ve been.

Google Maps isn’t alone here. Waze (owned by Google), HERE WeGo, MapQuest, and other online navigation services all log trip information, even if that data isn’t always identifiable.

If you don’t want anyone knowing where you drive, download an app that relies on offline maps. I rely on OsmAnd, an open source solution 12 Best Free and Open Source Android Apps 12 Best Free and Open Source Android Apps Are you an open source enthusiast? Then you'll love these apps for your Android phone or tablet. Read More . Sygic is one of the most popular commercial options What's the Best Maps and Navigation App for Android? What's the Best Maps and Navigation App for Android? Using the rights maps and navigation app can mean the difference between making it to your appointment on time or being late -- so we examine the best of them for you! Read More . HERE WeGo defaults to online use, but it lets you save locations for access offline.

To be extra sure an app isn’t submitting your trips, you can prevent it from having internet access How to Prevent Any App from Using Mobile Data on Android How to Prevent Any App from Using Mobile Data on Android Want to limit which apps are connecting to the Internet on your smartphone or tablet? That's easy. Let us show you how. Read More after you’ve downloaded your maps. This way where you go is your business alone.

Download — OsmAnd for Android (Free | $6.99)

Download — Sygic for Android (Free)

Download — HERE WeGo for Android (Free)

4. Use DuckDuckGo Instead of Google

Google keeps track of every term you type into the search box. Don’t believe me? Take a look at your account settings What Does Google Know About You? Find Out and Manage Your Privacy and Security What Does Google Know About You? Find Out and Manage Your Privacy and Security For the first time, search giant Google is offering a way for you to check the information it has about you, how it is gathering that data, and new tools to start reclaiming your privacy. Read More and Google will show you.

Other search engines do this too. Bing and Yahoo want this information, even if they aren’t as adept at personalizing the results as well as the Big G.

Your searches reveal a lot about you. Someone with this information can get a reasonable idea of your interests and what you think about from day to day. They can determine your political preferences, your income bracket, where you live, and other information that you would probably prefer someone to ask you for directly.

Fortunately an alternative engine has popped up, and it promises to respect your privacy. DuckDuckGo may not have the name recognition or the resources of the competition, but there are reasons to prefer it over Google 8 Search Tricks That Work on DuckDuckGo but Not on Google 8 Search Tricks That Work on DuckDuckGo but Not on Google Google Search is king. But DuckDuckGo has earned a loyal fan following. It has a few unusual features that even Google doesn't have. Read More .

Download — DuckDuckGo for Android (Free)

5. Guard Your Passwords

Passwords serve as the gatekeepers to our online lives. Good practice dictates that you use a unique password for every account. That can be challenging, which is why we’ve covered various techniques for creating strong passowrds 7 Ways To Make Up Passwords That Are Both Secure & Memorable 7 Ways To Make Up Passwords That Are Both Secure & Memorable Having a different password for each service is a must in today's online world, but there's a terrible weakness to randomly generated passwords: it's impossible to remember them all. But how can you possibly remember... Read More .

No matter how you slice it, a virtual keyboard isn’t the best way to input a lengthy string of characters. Fortunately, there are apps that circumvent this issue; they’re called password managers The Best Password Managers for Android Compared The Best Password Managers for Android Compared Passwords are hard to remember, and it's insecure to only have a few passwords memorized. Let these apps keep your passwords strong and secure! Read More . Some store your passwords on your phone while others keep them online.

Or you can download one of the various password generators Create Strong Passwords with These 4 Amazing Android Apps Create Strong Passwords with These 4 Amazing Android Apps Coming up with memorable, strong passwords can be difficult -- so let an app do it for you! Read More that don’t leave a record of your credentials that someone could potentially get their hands on.

6. Be Careful With Your Wallpaper

Have you ever seen someone use a picture of their significant other or kids as their phone wallpaper?

Of course you have! You’re probably doing it right now. I’m not judging you, but you should be cognisant of what you’re doing. Anyone who gets ahold of your phone has just gained insight into your personal life, even if they never bypass your lock screen. A picture of your spouse alone isn’t entirely revealing. That could be a picture of a friend or a selfie. But a family portrait showing the two of you with your kids is pretty self-explanatory.

Family Selfie Shot

7. Disable Location on Social Networks

Were you surprised when your last status update on Facebook or Twitter declared your location to the world? These apps ask your permission to broadcast where you are, but they don’t always make it obvious. You could be transmitting your regular whereabouts without even realizing it.

Social networks make this easy to disable, so make sure that you do Are You Sharing Your Location On Facebook Without Knowing? [Weekly Facebook Tips] Are You Sharing Your Location On Facebook Without Knowing? [Weekly Facebook Tips] Have you been giving your stalkers your address inadvertently? You might accidentally be giving all of your Facebook friends the exact location of your house, your office and where your kids go to school. Read More . While you’re at it, make sure you aren’t making any of these mistakes either 9 Things You Should Never Share on Social Media 9 Things You Should Never Share on Social Media Be careful what you share on social media because you never know when something could come back and ruin your life. Even the most innocent posts could be used against you. Read More .

8. Avoid App Stores

Google Play is the easiest way to get software onto most Android phones, and it’s also pretty secure. But there’s a downside to that convenience. Someone is creating a record of every app you’ve ever installed. If you buy music, ebooks, or movies — there’s a record of that too.

Shady Apps on the App Store

You may not mind Google having that information today. Or you may currently trust it in the hands of Amazon, which offers a competing marketplace Google Play vs. Amazon Appstore: Which Is Better? Google Play vs. Amazon Appstore: Which Is Better? Android comes with Google Play, but that isn't the only app store you can use on Android. Android allows users to use third-party app stores, and Amazon has stepped up with a competitor of its... Read More . But that may change in the future if either decides to utilize that data. Either way, the existence of that record is information that could be accessed by hackers in the case of a breach, and there are plenty of other companies or individuals that would pay to get access to that data some day.

F-Droid is an alternative way to get apps that doesn’t log which ones you download Want to Rid Yourself of the Android Play Store? Kiss Google Goodbye and Try F-Droid Want to Rid Yourself of the Android Play Store? Kiss Google Goodbye and Try F-Droid Did you know that Android allows the installation of app stores other than the Play Store? You might already use apps from the Amazon Appstore and GetJar—but you probably never heard that a completely free,... Read More . The downside is that it doesn’t contain nearly as many options. On the other hand, it only offers free and open-source software, which an extra level of peace of mind. You don’t know for sure what closed-source apps are doing with your data.

Your Privacy Is Not Guaranteed

Smartphones are inherently insecure. The act of connecting to cell towers gives away your location to someone. Unless you’re willing to commit to only using burner phones Sick of the NSA Tracking You? Burn Them with a Burner Phone Sick of the NSA Tracking You? Burn Them with a Burner Phone Sick of the NSA tracking you using your phone's positioning coordinates? Prepaid phones known colloquially as "burners" can provide you with partial privacy. Read More , don’t harbor any expectations of being a ghost.

That being said, I’d say it’s still worth reducing how much information you pump out over the web. You don’t know how that data will be used or who might gain access someday. In the new economy, many companies are more eager to accept payment from you in the form of information rather than cash.

What precautions do you take to protect your privacy? Do you see a point? Do you feel comfortable with the current state of smartphones? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

  1. C?t?lin Petrescu
    October 31, 2016 at 9:05 am

    The link to the free option in OsmAnd redirects to DuckDuckGo

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