Mobiles & Tablets

Making your smartphone secure

Mahananda Bohidar August 14 | Updated on August 14, 2013 Published on August 14, 2013

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My colleague turned to me the other day and said, “You know what? My Gmail is creeping me out. It keeps showing me ads for cheaper flight tickets. How does it know I’ve a wedding to attend in Kerala?” I’m sure a lot of you have found yourselves in similar situations lately. A simple, yet baffling answer to this would be you served the information on a platter to Google when you agreed to use their services.

What’s happening

Every time you sign up with a new Web site or download a new app, you don’t even skim through a couple of lines of black and white where the app asks you for some permission request and you blindly click on ‘Allow’. That’s the digital equivalent of handing over your personal diary to a potential stalker!

Every time you do this, the company (and whoever it possibly sells this information to) knows a lot about you – starting from your birth date, gender, location, even contacts to what your favourite cuisine might be, whether you prefer Gucci over Prada or if you are planning to quit your company soon.

A gaming app or a calendar app can’t potentially do anything with this information by itself. But what they can do is sell data about you to potential advertisers. The data collected by tracking your online behaviour - by scanning your email, your Facebook feed, tweets even SMSes - can be used to outline a detailed profile about you and exploited by the company.

But it’s just Angry Birds!

So far there have been virtually no rules governing what kind of data these apps can mine through your personal device. Hence, it’s all the more important that you be aware of how much they know about you and how you can limit that information.

- Be mindful of the apps you download. Go to the corresponding app store, see how many people have downloaded it, skim through the feedback section, see if the company that created it is legit.

- Look through the privacy policy and terms of service. Check if the app is requesting access to only the data and functions of the phone that it absolutely needs to operate. If the answer is no, don’t download it. If you are using an Android phone, the install screen will give you details about what data it will access.

- Download apps only from app markets that are popular such as Apple’s App Store, Android’s Play Store, Amazon Store, Getjar and so on.

Where have you been, honey?

You know how you keep ‘checking in’ to locations on Facebook and Foursquare, just for kicks. If there was an app that could, it would probably be able to draw a map trail of all the places you have been to since you got on board with a smarpthone or tablet. Despite the convenience of having your GPS on all the time, the idea of it collecting and storing all you location details is a bit unsettling.

Even if you choose to geo-tag your pictures (when the phone automatically corresponds a location to each picture you click), you are potentially putting yourself a risk. If someone chooses to pay close attention, he/she can learn your behaviour patterns – when and how long you stay away from home, where your workplace is, which restaurants or bars you frequent. To curb this, you can make sure your geo-tagging feature and GPS are turned off by default. Switch them on only when you need them.

Another simple step to disable companies from tracking you is by regularly deleting your browser history. On a smartphone you can ask your browser never to save your browsing history or fall into the habit of clearing cookies every 2-3 days or so. This will reduce the amount you can be tracked online.

Are we done yet?

Often, when you trade your old phone for a better one, you delete your pics and contacts or run a complete format on the handset before selling it. However, this is not a foolproof method of making sure no one else gets their hands on your stored media. Stores have known to run third-party recovery software that can give them access to your deleted contacts, pictures, videos and text messages, even if your phone had earlier been password-protected. To prevent his, you can download apps such as Secure Data Destruction or File Waster to wipe your devices clean before passing them on.

mahananda.bohidar@thehindu.co.on

Published on August 14, 2013
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