If you have been extensively using your smartphone during the lockdown, chances are you are probably downloading many apps and using them day in and day out. Are you familiar with the pop-up box that requests permission from you to use your smartphone’s camera or microphone? You hesitantly grant permission because what else are you supposed to do? The app will not work unless you grant permission.
There is a more sinister side to these “permissions” as well. There are some apps that don’t even bother asking for your consent, turning your smartphone into a pocket spy, loaded with microphones and cameras ready to steal information.
Recently, the Indian government has banned several apps because sensitive data was being leaked from Indian smartphones that had Chinese apps.
Although the ban might have been triggered by the border tension between two countries, experts believe the usage of data by these companies and very little hold the government had on them was always a problem. “If the companies are not able to make sure the data is delivered to the right place, there will be no security and all the data will be taken over. If the things (information) are kept confidential and safe, then no problem, but if they are not able to promise, then the government needs to take an action… which they have already done,” Vijay, Counsellor, Hacker school in Bengaluru.
The government might have banned several apps but there are more apps with questionable practices and we need to be aware of the permissions we have given these apps on our phone.
How to figure out which apps have permission to use your camera or microphone?
Back in 2018, over 250 apps across the Google Play market and App Store were found out to be listening to background audio through smartphone microphones, allowing the apps to easily figure out what you’re watching or listening, in order to serve up targeted advertisements. Of course, there has always been this long-standing conspiracy theory that your smartphones have been actively eavesdropping on you.
On Android smartphones
Settings -> Apps and Notifications -> Scroll down and tap Advanced -> Permission Manager -> Select the settings you’d like to example, from microphone permissions, to camera permissions, to call logs -> Once you are under the category, you could click on the apps to toggle the permission and ALLOW or DENY.
On iOS smartphones
Settings -> Privacy -> select Camera or Microphone, depending on which permissions you’d like to check on -> toggle permission on/off for certain apps
Is it possible to know if smartphones are spying on you?
“Nobody can say for sure that they’re being spied on through smartphone apps because in 2020 until and unless there is a loss to you or any discrepancy in your data, you cannot say for sure that you’re being spied on,” says Vijay.
How can you guard against spying or mobile tracking?
The biggest danger of mobile spying doesn’t come from cellular networks but from the apps installed in your smartphones. Instead of keeping your smartphone switched off the whole day or keeping it inside plastic covers, you have to protect the device internally.
“If you ever get any links from someone you don’t know, it would be better to not click on that link. Even if you get a link from your friend, verify it with them first, if they intentionally sent that link or not,” advise Vijay.
There are few other ways you can protect your personal data from being stolen –
- Using two-factor authentication on your social accounts will add to the security of the account
- Download apps only through the App Store or Google Play Store. Avoid using third-party platforms to download apps otherwise, you might end up compromising your sensitive data. Third-party platforms are unreliable and suspicious when it comes to mobile apps.
- Protect your smartphones using a strong, complex pin and never share it with anyone.
- Never give permissions to mobile apps if they seem to be asking excessive permission. For instance, why should a “Mobile Torch” be granted permission to your contacts? Moreover, you could always grant permission later if the apps genuinely require permission.
The safety of your confidential data is in your own hands. While the government did its part by banning apps that were compromising your data, you need to do your part as well. Be conscious of how you’re using your smartphone and the apps you’re using on it. Be vigilant and never let your private information be compromised.