Can you really trust the apps on your phone? When it comes to data privacy, apps are notoriously tough to trust. Unfortunately, there's no way to tell at face value if an app is tracking you, even when you say stop, and no protection is foolproof in today's world of ever-evolving technology. An app that behaves well today could turn into a bad actor tomorrow if the company behind the app is sold, changes its direction, or winds up compromised because of a flaw. However, there are steps you can take to protect your data privacy and improve your smartphone security.
Use a password manager
The strongest passwords are random strings of characters. 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. 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, use a VPN. A virtual private network 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.
Be mindful of app permissions
Double check 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.
Research the app or company
While you can't tell at face value if an app has sinister motives, a quick Google search 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. Also, 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
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 you provide, the more is at risk in the event of a data breach.
Keep software up to date
Making time to update your smartphone's operating system is critical to keeping your data safe. Updates let you stay a step ahead of hackers and the latest exploits they're spreading across the internet. 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. You can adjust your phone's settings so it'll update automatically.
Only download apps from Google Play’s and Apple's stores