How to Control the Way Android Apps Are Using Personal Data

Smartphones like Android have created an environment where almost any digital activity requires the use of an app. From checking the weather to ordering pizza, there is always an app available. Many Android users have over 60 apps downloaded to their smartphones.

Most apps require at least some basic personal information, like an email address or mobile phone number. However, apps often take info gathering much further than the basics. Many apps monitor location, and some even have access to the camera or microphone. There are even some apps for Android that request access to text messaging and call logs.

An Android may be collecting a treasure trove of personal information unbeknownst to you. It is important to get educated on what is happening with this information down the line.

How Data Is Used and Safety Concerns

While most apps have a users’ best interest at heart and do not intend to be malicious, many collect information on behalf of other entities. When an Android app is downloaded and installed, it requests permission to access a variety of pieces of information. For instance, a rideshare app will require location data to find you for pickup. Typically, that same data is sent to another party for further use.

Data is frequently sent to third-party libraries that store information for future use by app developers. Developers may use stored data in the future to design other apps or improve current Android apps. The concern is that multiple apps could send separate pieces of information to the same third-party library and unwittingly build a complete picture of your activities and behaviors.

Unfortunately, most users cannot determine what libraries apps use, making it impossible to determine if shared information is leaving the user vulnerable to breaches in security and privacy. While most apps use the data collected for targeted advertising and improvements, the stored information could pose a risk if it ever fell into the wrong hands.

Protecting Data Amongst Android Apps

With major app developers like Facebook falling under scrutiny recently for the mishandling of private data, it is easy to imagine the fall out of a major security breach at one of these developers. Finding ways to limit the sharing of information and the vulnerabilities of data collection is challenging. There are some ways to contain the data you share with Android apps.

  • Review Permissions

All Android apps request permissions for access to certain types of data. It may be enlightening to review these permissions (Go to Settings – Then Apps – Choose an App – Select Permissions) and evaluate if you find them appropriate. If a less reputable app or one you rarely use has access to sensitive data, you might consider removing it.

  • Limit Third-Party Apps

Limiting access to your social media accounts by third-party apps is always a good idea. Many of these apps attach to your accounts as games or add-ons and can collect all the same data as the social media app itself. Obviously, the fewer parties with access to your data, the less risk your information faces.

  • Consider Advanced Security

While a Virtual Private Network (VPN) will not limit data shared with app developers, it can limit the risk of that data being intercepted by malicious individuals. A VPN creates a shield around the data coming to and leaving your Android, making it less vulnerable to an ill-intended hacker. The data will still work its way to the developers since you gave them permission to have it, but it will be safe along the way.

  • Exercise Caution and Restraint

Social media has become a content-driven environment that encourages users to document everyday life in words and images. Unfortunately, even the most innocent post can lead to divulging information that can be used maliciously.

Exercise caution when posting pictures, captioning them, or commenting on the posts of others. It is indeed possible to be active on social media without providing intimate details like current locations and the names of those around.

Android apps provide countless ways to make life more exciting and convenient. All technological advances require some form of caution and apps are no different. As you enjoy all Android apps have to offer, consider who your information is being shared with if you really want to share the information, and ways to protect the data in transit.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn't know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.