Google includes a lot of free software with Android, but you still have to pay for it with data when you use it. Because of the information you share with it while browsing the web and using Google apps, the company can create an extremely detailed profile of your life. While it’s impossible to completely remove tracking if you don’t want to use a custom ROM or switch to iOS, there are a few things you can do. So, here is the complete guide on how to protect privacy on Android?
If you already have Android 10 or higher, you can go to your system settings and look for the Privacy section to change which personal data you share with Google. Everything mentioned in this article about your Google Account and Android settings can be found there. For everyone else, these options are scattered throughout your phone, but don’t worry: we’re here to help you find them all, and we’ll also share the benefits and drawbacks of changing them.
How to turn off location history and tracking?
You may have enabled Location History when you first got your phone, allowing Google to save a history of all the places you’ve visited, which is accessible in Google Maps under Your Timeline. While Google claims that it protects this data and does not share it with third parties, you may be concerned that the company has a complete record of your every move (while carrying your phone). It is possible to disable location tracking completely, but doing so requires a number of switches to be flipped. That’s why we’ve written a separate article about it. Look it up here.
Keep in mind that if you want to turn off Location History has some minor drawbacks: your timeline in Google Maps will no longer update, your Google Assistant will lose some functionality, and your automatic commuting notifications will no longer appear.
Prevent apps from tracking your location in the background on Android 10 and higher.
Android 10 improved some of Android’s previously infamously poor privacy practices. It prevents both third-party and first-party apps from polling your location in the background, limiting their access to your location only while you are using them.
To protect privacy on android, navigate to Settings -> Privacy -> Permissions manager -> Location. There, you’ll find a list of all the apps that have been installed on your phone. You can set individual location tracking limits for each by selecting a tier: Allowable at all times, only while in use, or denied. On Android 12, you can also disable the ability for weather apps and other apps that don’t require your precise location to access your location by flipping a toggle. While most apps don’t require your location, some of them, particularly those related to navigation or weather widgets, provide additional benefits when they do. Some older Android versions require you to choose between always allowing and always forbidding location access, with no only in use option. You should carefully consider which apps you trust and what you truly gain by sharing your location with an app. In a hotel booking app, for example, you’re unlikely to search for accommodations in your immediate vicinity, and you’re unlikely to need to grant it access to your location. Other apps, such as weather apps or food delivery services, allow you to manually enter your address. They provide the same functionality with the minor inconvenience of requiring you to type in your address.
How to turn off Google’s personalization?
To prevent Google from following you around the web, go to your Google Account’s activity controls, which can be found at myaccount.google.com and Settings -> Privacy -> Activity. Settings -> Google -> Manage your Google Account -> Manage your data & personalization (On older Android versions, go to Settings -> Google -> Manage your Google Account -> Manage your data & personalization).
How to protect privacy on Android? You can disable Web & App Activity in there, but keep in mind that doing so may cause Google results to become less accurate. You can also prevent Google from collecting data about your Google Assistant usage, but this severely limits its utility. For example, the Assistant will not respond to personal queries such as “What’s on my calendar?” or “Read my messages” on any device, including Assistant-enabled smart speakers — Google wants you to provide your data in order to continue using the Assistant. If you’re concerned about your privacy, you should probably avoid using Google Home speakers and the Assistant altogether.
You can continue by disabling YouTube History and, more importantly, Ad personalization. When you do this, Google will stop showing you personalized ads and instead show you more generic, less relevant content. It will be solely based on “general factors, such as the subject of what you’re looking at, the time of day, or your general location,” according to Google. You’ll also need to go to myactivity.google.com to delete previously saved data. Open the hamburger menu on that website by tapping the three bars in the top left corner, then select “Delete activity by…” Then you can choose which activity to delete.
On Android 10 and later, all of these settings have been consolidated into a single location, which can be found in Settings -> Privacy. While you’re at it, disable Google’s Auto fill service and Usage & Diagnostics — especially if you don’t use the former. There are numerous other password managers that are highly recommended.
How to disable backups?
Go to Settings -> System -> Backup to disable backups to Google’s servers. You can turn off Back up to Google Drive there.
However, if you do this, none of your valuable data, such as contact numbers or SMS chats, will be automatically restored if you lose or break your phone, so be cautious about saving information elsewhere. You’ll also have to manually sign back into apps you used on your old phone, lose custom device settings like Wi-Fi passwords, and your photos and videos will not be backed up. Consider whether having some peace of mind about this data is worth the privacy trade-off. Instead, you could consider switching to a privately hosted server that uses ownCloud or similar open source solutions to sync and backup your data.
When possible, use third-party software
How to protect privacy on Android? If you don’t want Google to track you or to protect privacy on your phone, use third-party software instead of Google’s pre-installed apps as much as possible. There are numerous email providers, cloud storage solutions, note-taking apps, and navigation systems that do not rely on Google software, such as Microsoft Outlook, Dropbox, Bundled Notes, or Evernote, and OsmAnd. If you’re serious about privacy, you should even consider using only open-source replacements. That isn’t a guarantee that your data is safe, but the code for the services is mostly peer-controlled and isn’t always in the hands of a single company. We wrote a series of articles about open-source alternatives to popular Google apps.
Some Google apps can even be deactivated safely by tapping and holding their icons in the app drawer or home screen, then tapping the I button and selecting disable to protect privacy. But be careful, as some apps, such as Google Search, are required to keep your phone running. Disabling YouTube Music or Google TV, on the other hand, should be safe.
Use a different browser than Chrome
How to protect privacy on Android? If you’re concerned about Google Chrome’s tracking mechanisms, consider using a different browser that protects your privacy. I’d argue that Firefox and Firefox Focus are the best options to protect privacy because they use a browser engine that was not created by Google. Many other third-party browsers use Google Chrome’s rendering engine, which is harmful to the web’s health. If you’re not happy with Firefox, you could try Microsoft Edge, Samsung Internet, or Vivaldi.
You can set any of these as your default browser by long-pressing its icon on your home screen, then selecting the I icon and selecting the default browser option. When you use the Google app, you’ll notice that it continues to open links in a custom Chrome tab. To force the search engine to use your preferred third-party browser, launch the Google app, tap your profile picture in the top right corner, and then Settings -> Browser. General and deselect Open web pages in the app.
Reduce Chrome’s appetite for your data
If you prefer to stick with Chrome, there are still steps you can take to improve your privacy. Change the search engine in the browser’s settings (three-dot menu -> Settings -> Search engine) to another provider — among those listed, DuckDuckGo.com is your best option for privacy. Its results, on the other hand, aren’t always as accurate — there’s a reason Google is the undisputed king of search.
How to protect privacy on Android? Another option in Settings is to sign out of your Google account and disable sync, though you’ll lose cross-platform synchronization as a result. Disabling Google’s native password tool and using a third-party password manager will improve both your privacy and security. Consider deactivating Google’s payment methods and address auto fill options as well. Scroll down in Chrome’s settings to find more advanced options. Turn off Access payment methods and preload pages under Privacy for faster browsing and searching. You can also disable Chrome activity in Digital Wellbeing and enable “Do Not Track,” though the latter is a little misleading: That simply informs websites that you do not want to be tracked, but it does not compel the operators to comply. It may even make it easier to identify you.
Tap Cookies and then Block third-party cookies in the Site settings. This should be enabled by default, but double-check to make sure. This way, you can prevent third-party tracking cookies from websites you’ve never visited from following you around the internet. However, some features, such as saved sign-ins to the comment platform Disqus (which we use here on Android Police), may break along the way — To make comments work again, you’ll need to manually allow Disqus cookies. You should also disable Lite Mode. While Lite Mode does save some of your valuable mobile data, it does so by routing unencrypted HTTP website queries through Google’s servers (encrypted HTTPS websites aren’t affected by Lite Mode in the first place).
Don’t rely on Incognito mode
How to protect privacy on Android? Contrary to popular belief, any browser’s incognito or private mode can only take you so far when it comes to staying anonymous online. Your internet service provider and public Wi-Fi providers may still be able to see which websites you visit. The same is true for some ad trackers, which track you in both incognito and regular mode using a unique combination of your hardware, software, and IP address rather than cookies. If you truly want to remain anonymous, try the Firefox-based Tor Browser or a reputable VPN like ProtonVPN.
Set up two-factor authentication for your accounts
While 2-factor authentication (2FA) will not prevent Google from obtaining your data, it may prevent hackers from gaining access to your account, which would be worse — they are unlikely to abide by any privacy laws that Google has in mind. That is why, whenever possible, you should enable 2FA for your Google account and any other online account. For Google, go to your account’s security settings, which you can access on the web right here. Look for and enable the 2-Step Verification entry. When you log in to a new device, you’ll be required to enter a second piece of information in addition to your password. To accomplish this, you can use trusted phones, authenticator apps, phone numbers, and backup codes.
Many other services, including Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, password managers, and Slack, offer 2FA. They are accessible through the security settings of this service. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of 2FA apps available, we’ve compiled a list of our favorites.
Aside from these kill switches, there are a few other things you can do on your phone to share less data with Google and third-party apps:
- Turn on location only when you need it. That will also save you a little battery life. You can create a shortcut for that in your quick settings on most Android versions by swiping down the notification panel twice and tapping the pencil button (this is how it looks on Pixel phones — the workflow varies by manufacturer).
- Check which apps have device admin privileges (Settings -> Apps & notifications -> Advanced -> Special app access -> Device admin apps). Find My Device and Google Pay are two apps that usually get this permission by default, but you can deactivate it if you don’t use the payments app. (However, if you do decide to use the app, remember to reactivate it.)
- Examine the permissions you’ve granted your apps in Settings -> Privacy -> Permission manager (or Settings -> Apps & notifications -> Advanced -> Permission manager on some older Android versions) and deactivate those you don’t need. And don’t worry, if an app requires one to function properly, it will prompt you to reactivate it, so it’s pretty foolproof.
- Avoid logging into third-party apps with your Google account. Instead, create new accounts for each person, each with their own unique password.
- Last but not least, consider performing a security audit. Google will walk you through any unused logins and third-party apps that have access to your account and ask if you still need them. This will not help you keep data away from Google, but it will keep your information from spreading even further.
How to protect privacy on Android? Installing a custom ROM without any Google apps is a surefire way to avoid being tracked by Google entirely. Despite Android’s open-source nature, this is difficult to achieve, as our own Myriam Joire discovered. Many apps rely on Google Play Services for functionality such as push notifications and location data. What you can do is use a ROM with microG, an open-source replacement for many of the Play Services functions.
However, just because custom ROMs are open source does not imply that malicious code was found in the source. You should avoid obscure forks, and any custom ROM installation should be preceded by extensive research. Google promises not to sell your data to third parties and would face severe consequences if it did due to the reliance on its services by so many people, businesses, and governments. An individual ROM developer distributing free software to a small number of people is much more difficult to control and, unfortunately, does not have the same resources as Google to provide top-tier security. This rule is broken by /e/, a ROM supported by a non-profit organization that sells de-googled phones and assists people in installing the ROM on their own devices. Overall, it’s difficult to completely disable tracking in this day and age. If you’re extremely paranoid, you should probably avoid using a smartphone in the first place. However, even if you want to take advantage of all the benefits that internet-connected technology has brought us, you can make some choices that will help you become less transparent on the internet, which is something.