Follow these three steps to protect your privacy—they only take a few seconds.|
If you've Zoomed at all over the last four-plus months, you're certainly familiar with that pop-up box that requests permission to use your device's microphone or camera. How else are you supposed to see or hear the person on the other line?
But there can be a more sinister side to these permissions: Some apps don't bother asking for your consent at all, turning your device into a pocket spy, loaded with cameras and microphones at the ready.
Back in 2018, for example, over 250 apps across the App Store and Google Play market were listening in for background audio through smartphone microphones, allowing the apps to figure out what you watch or listen to in order to serve up better targeted advertisements. And then, of course, there's the long-standing conspiracy theory that our smartphones are actively eavesdropping on us.
The good news: You can take a few simple precautions to always maintain your privacy and ward off any watchful apps. The following tips just take a few seconds to complete.
Strategy #1: Figure out which apps already have permission to use your camera and microphone.
This is a pretty quick exercise in personal security, and it might actually surprise you. For example, when I checked out which apps have permission to use the microphone on my Google Pixel 3a, I found out 16 out of 52 possible apps had access.
While none of the apps that already have permission really surprised me—Android Auto, the native camera app, and Google Duo were among the culprits—some of the apps that I denied, but could have given permissions to, were alarming. Why would I really want to give up those privileges to the American Eagle app, or the HelloFresh app, for example?
⚠️ To figure out which apps have permission to use your microphone or camera:
Settings Apps Notifications Scroll down and click Advanced. Permission Manager Select which settings you'd like to examine, from call logs, to camera permissions, to microphone permissions. Once you're under a category, you can click on any of the apps to toggle the permission to Allow or Deny.
Settings Privacy select Microphone or Camera, depending on which you'd like check up on toggle permission on/off for certain apps.
To be clear, I'm not saying these apps are inherently malicious—just that they're asking for permission to use tools that can garner the most data possible. You should be wary of these things. When going through your list of apps that have permission to the microphone or camera, ask yourself a few basic questions:
Do I actually record or post videos or images with this app? What about listening to playback audio or recording audio? If none of these things apply, don't give the app access to the camera or microphone.
Can I wait to turn permissions on until I need them? If it's your native camera app, you'll probably want permissions turned on at all times so you never miss the shot. But if it's something like WhatsApp, consider turning off all permissions to the camera until you actually need it.
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