Over 1,000 Android apps were found to steal your data. Here's what you can do

Your privacy may be at stake, even if you deny these apps permission.

Katie Teague Writer II
Katie is a writer covering all things how-to at CNET, with a focus on Social Security and notable events. When she's not writing, she enjoys playing in golf scrambles, practicing yoga and spending time on the lake.
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Katie Teague
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Keep your data private on your Android.

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Researchers have discovered that more than 1,000 Android apps harvest your data, even when you tell them no. This is an eye-opening thought at a time when companies such as Facebook , Google and Amazon are under the microscope for their privacy and security policies. Studies have shown that apps with no permissions are able to piggyback on other apps you've given permissions to. According to the researchers' findings, these apps can even gather data from your Wi-Fi connections.

If you've seen ads on apps or in your browser for items you looked up in a completely different app, you might have spotted some of this data-harvesting at work. Google addresses the privacy issue in Android Q, its OS update for Android phones , which is coming later this year. 

If you're feeling helpless that denying apps permission to your data doesn't seem to make a difference, we're right there with you. But there are still some things you can do to make it harder for apps to see information you don't want them to.

Watch this: Loads of Android apps are skirting privacy controls

Only give apps permission to access data that makes sense

The apps you download may ask for permission to access your calendar, camera, contacts, location, microphone, phone, SMS, storage and sensors. Some permissions are necessary for the app to function. If it's a mapping app, then sure, location data comes with the territory. If it's a word game asking for your location, maybe just say no. 

The problem comes when apps ask for permission to parts of your phone that you don't want to grant, or that they don't need. For example, if you give apps access to your microphone, it's possible they are listening in, so be aware of what you're giving them access to. By denying permissions, you can prevent apps from ever seeing your data in the first place. 

If it turns out that the app won't work unless you give it access, you can still decide to give it permission. But getting into the habit of scrutinizing your app permissions will make you more aware of what apps are doing with your phone.


Android Q's new permission controls make it easy to audit your apps and the data they have access to. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Enable or disable app permissions one by one

If you install an app with all permissions disabled, you can still turn on the ones you want individually in the settings.

1. Go to your Android phone's Settings app.

2. Tap on Apps or Application Manager.

3. Select the app that you want to change by tapping Permissions.

4. From here, you can choose which permissions to turn on and off, like your microphone and camera.

Scan for viruses and other flaws

Google Play Protect scans all of your apps to identify any that are potentially dangerous. Even the most trusted apps can develop flaws that hackers can exploit, so it's a good idea to scan the apps on your phone periodically to ensure your apps are safe.

1. Go to your Android phone's Settings app.

2. Tap Security.

3. Select Google Play Protect. From here, you'll see all of the apps that have been scanned and if any are suspect. If so, you'll want to take steps to immediately stop using those apps and get them off your phone.


Android Q's advanced location settings. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Turn off your location settings

A large amount of tracking comes from your location settings, so it's best to turn this setting off.

1. Go to your Android phone's Settings app.

2. Tap Location.

3. Select Google Location Settings.

4. Slide the toggle switch off for Location Reporting and Location History.

5. You can go a step further by deleting all of your location history.

6. If you need location enabled, you can manually toggle it on, and turn it off again when you're done.

Turn off location data in your photos

1. Go to your Android phone's Photos app.

2. Tap the menu and select Settings.

3. Tap Remove geo location.

4. You can also turn off an individual photo's location in the Photos app by opening the photo, clicking the three stacked dots, select Info and choose No location. (Or go into a submenu beneath the map and click Remove Location.)

Read more: Don't let your smartphone track you

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