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Checking app privacy settings is a must

When was the last time you checked the privacy settings on the apps you use? It’s easy to do, and can save you time and trouble.

Let’s start by evaluating the apps you have installed, and deleting those you don’t use. First, make a backup of your device through a normal sync operation. Bear in mind that deleting the app will delete any data associated with it. If the app allows you to export your data you should do so before proceeding.

Next, take a look at your apps and find those you no longer use. On an iPhone or iPad, you can delete an app by pressing and holding on the icon, then clicking the X. You’ll be asked to confirm deletion. On Android, you can tap the app from the Settings menu, then select Uninstall or Disable.

Now let’s take a look at your remaining apps. How much access do they have to your private data, and do they really need it? For example, you might have a photo app that wants permission to access your camera. That makes sense. But does a game really need full access to your contacts and photos? Probably not. Apps often ask for far more permission than they really need. Sometimes, this is simply due to lax programming techniques, but it could also be a sign of a malicious app masquerading as something else in order to steal your data. Don’t assume the default settings are the most secure. On the contrary, they probably aren’t.

For iPhones and iPads, you can go into Settings and find a list of all of your apps. Tapping each one will let you see its privacy settings. On Android, go into Apps in Settings, click the gear icon, and click App Permissions. If an app doesn’t need access to your location, for example, turn that off. Also turn off anything that wants access to your camera and microphone unless you are actively using it for that purpose. Remember, you can change these settings at any time. I recommend you keep them off unless you are actively using the app. You can switch on and off as necessary. This is a more secure way to allow apps to access your camera and microphone.

Despite the settings, malware can still hijack your mobile device’s camera and microphone. Unfortunately, antivirus products on mobile devices fall short of their computer counterparts, but your device’s provider may offer their own security features to help bridge the gap. You can check their support site for details. While you’re checking settings, be sure to set a PIN on your device as well, and enable Safe Browsing and Do Not Track in your mobile Web browser.

The best way to avoid app trouble is to be selective about the apps you install. Just because it’s in the app store doesn’t make it safe. The Google Play store in particular has had many problems with malware disguised as apps. Only install well-known apps from reliable developers, and watch for malicious lookalikes. When in doubt, don’t install. That app may seem like fun, but it could be silently stealing your data.

• Triona Guidry is a computer specialist and freelance writer. Her Tech Tips blog www.guidryconsulting.com/techtips offers tech support advice for Windows and Mac.

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