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The ultimate guide to privacy on Android

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On the surface, Android and privacy might not seem like the most natural of bedfellows. Google is known for its advertising business, after all — it’s how the company makes the lion’s share of its money — and it can be tough to square the notion of data collection with the concept of carefully controlled information.

In actuality, though, Google gives you a good amount of authority over how and when it taps into your Android-associated info. (And even at its worst, the company never shares your data with anyone or sells it to third parties, despite some broad misconceptions to the contrary.) Ultimately, it just comes down to a matter of educating yourself about the possibilities and then determining what balance of privacy and function makes the most sense for you.

And you’d better believe the onus falls squarely on you to do that. By default, most Google privacy valves are opened up to the max — to the setting that allows the most feature-rich and ad-supporting experience and that uses your data in the most free-flowing manner possible. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it may or may not be what you want, particularly from a professional perspective. And navigating the layers of settings, not only with Google itself but also with the various third-party services that interact with your phone, is often easier said than done.

Well, consider this your guide to the labyrinth. I’ll take you through a series of 14 Android privacy adjustments, starting with the easiest and most broadly advisable tweaks and ending with higher-level tactics for the most privacy-minded users. Along the way I’ll explain what each setting accomplishes, how long it should take to implement, and how much inconvenience it’ll cause.

Make your way through the list and think thoroughly about each item’s pros and cons — and before you know it, you’ll have a deliberate Android privacy plan that’s less about defaults and more about your own preferences.

Section I: Easy Android privacy adjustments that are advisable for anyone

1. Uninstall used apps

  • Time required: 2 minutes
  • Inconvenience level: 0/10

This first Android privacy step is a no-brainer and something everyone should do periodically: Look through all of the installed apps on your phone and remove anything you haven’t used in the past month or two (so long as it isn’t required by your IT department, of course!). Unused apps not only take a toll on your device’s resources; they also have the potential to leave open doors to sensitive info that’d be better off closed.

So open up your app drawer and mull over every icon you see there. If you haven’t used an app in a while, press and hold its icon and select “Uninstall” — or, if you don’t see that as an option, select “App info” and then find the Uninstall button. On older Android versions, you might have to drag the app toward the top of the screen to access those same options; once you see them appear at the top of your display, drag the app up to that area and then release it.

With apps that came preinstalled on your phone out of the box, you may not always be able to uninstall but can often disable them — with the option to do so appearing either in that same long-press menu or within the aforementioned “App info” screen. That won’t get the app off your device entirely but will stop it from running and actively accessing any of your information.

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