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8 mobile apps that protect your phone's privacy, because no, you're not doing enough

From private browsing to password managers, mobile security couldn't get any simpler.

Rae Hodge Former senior editor
Rae Hodge was a senior editor at CNET. She led CNET's coverage of privacy and cybersecurity tools from July 2019 to January 2023. As a data-driven investigative journalist on the software and services team, she reviewed VPNs, password managers, antivirus software, anti-surveillance methods and ethics in tech. Prior to joining CNET in 2019, Rae spent nearly a decade covering politics and protests for the AP, NPR, the BBC and other local and international outlets.
Rae Hodge
4 min read

Looking for a little more privacy on your phone? Here's the quickest way to get it. 

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You're using a PIN to lock your phone, and you're avoiding suspicious emails and apps, right? That's a good start to protecting your privacy on your smartphone. But if you're concerned about the rising tide of mobile phone hacks and massive data breaches in the news, there's more you can do to lock down your most personal piece of technology. 

From browsing under the radar to remotely turning your stolen phone into a brick, here are some of our favorite apps devoted to protecting your privacy on both iOS and Android. 

Private browsing

Whether you're using iOS or Android, the easiest privacy boost you can give yourself is with a virtual private network. VPNs let you hop on public Wi-Fi without worrying about password theft, and they snap the virtual blinds shut on nosy mobile carriers. My go-to recommendation is ExpressVPN, a well-garlanded service at a reasonable price. Aside from its solid track record on security, it consistently ranks among the fastest VPNs on the market and is available for both operating systems

Whichever VPN you choose, though, just make sure it's not a free one

If you're an Android user, the app you need for ultimate browsing security is Tor Browser and its companion, Orbot, the mobile traffic encryption tool. Orbot doesn't just encrypt your browser traffic, it encrypts all data from your internet-connected mobile apps . The closest you can get on iOS is Onion Browser. The only drawback is that it doesn't encrypt all internet-connected app data, just your browsing data. 

Keep in mind that using either Orbot on Android or the Onion Browser on iOS is going to cause some slowdowns in loading speeds. You'll sacrifice some anonymity, but for a speed boost you can always switch to the Brave browser. Its speed and steadfast tracker-blocking pushes it ahead of Firefox and Chrome.

Since you've already gone this far, why not switch from Google to Duck Duck Go? Unlike Google, this privacy-oriented search engine app blocks advertising trackers, forces encryption, and doesn't tail you across the internet looking for ways to serve you ads. It offers apps for both iOS and Android.

Messaging and passwords

To keep your texts secure, consider using the Signal app for either iOS or Android. For encrypted phone calls and text messaging, Signal offers the best combination of usability and security. Keep in mind that for the encryption to work, the people you message have to be using it as well, so spread the word for wider safety. And, yes, you can still send gifs.

The problem with loading up on all of these security apps is that you're going to need to create a lot of new passwords. And if there's one must-have app for privacy, it's a reliable password manager

With iOS 11 , Apple introduced a password manager feature, which promised to bypass the pain of memorization. 

Another favorite for many is the 1Password app, available for both iOS and Android. It outpaces the competition and earns its price tag by offering additional features. An individual subscription runs $36 a year, comes with 1GB of storage and offers two-factor authentication. A travel mode lets you remove your 1Password sensitive data from your device when you travel, then restore it with one click when you return.  

Hit the kill switch 

But what if you want to protect your phone after it's already been lost or stolen? You'll need a kill switch -- a way to remotely destroy the contents of your phone and make it nearly useless to a would-be thief. 

Read more: This is how you get your lost or stolen Android phone back fast

The easiest option for Android users is to enable the Find My Device feature already available on your phone. This will allow you to remotely locate the phone if it's lost or stolen, lock it and display a message for any helpful Samaritans who'd like to return it to you. It will also allow you to completely wipe it of data. Here's how to enable Find My Device on your Android phone. 

1. Open the Settings app.

2. Tap Google, then tap Security

3. Turn on Remotely locate this device and Allow remote lock and erase.

Afterward, head over to the Google Play app: 

1. Go to the Settings page, where you'll see your Android phone listed. 

2. Under Visibility, tick the box next to Show in menus.

3. Click the Update button.  

Read more: If you lose your iPhone, immediately do these 3 things

The iOS crowd can use Find My iPhone, a feature associated with every iPhone that has an iCloud account. To enable Find My iPhone, do the following: 

1. Go to Settings.

2. Tap Apple ID, then tap the device you're using.

3. Enable Find My iPhone.

Afterward, you'll want to give Find My iPhone permission to access your location: 

1. Go back to Settings

2. Tap Privacy, then tap Location Services

3. From there you can let Find My iPhone access your location.

For more smartphone privacy tips, check out 7 security tips to keep people and apps from stealing your data, and don't let your smartphone track you on CNET. 

Watch this: Android 10 privacy settings: Everything to know