Google released the first public version of its Android 12 operating system toward the end of October—but not for everyone. It rolled out on Google-made Pixel phones first and is gradually trickling its way onto the handsets of other manufacturers. Samsung is now making it available for its flagship Galaxy phones, and the likes of OnePlus, Oppo, and Realme are set to follow in the coming weeks.
The new features in Android 12 aren’t the biggest update, but Google has included a bunch of privacy and security additions. They don’t go as far as the latest iPhone privacy settings in locking down your data, but they’re still worth digging into.
Some of the new Android updates—such as hibernating apps you haven’t used for a long time and making location data less precise—will operate under the hood. But other changes are worth the five minutes it takes to check them out. While you are updating your phone you should also make sure the rest of your privacy settings are locked down—Google is a company built on personal data and targeted advertising, after all.
Use the Privacy Dashboard
Many of the biggest privacy tweaks in Android 12 are based around the permissions you give the apps on your phone. When you're installing apps, they can ask for access to your camera, contacts, files, location, microphone, and multiple other sensors and data sets stored on your device.
Some of these permissions are crucial for apps to work. But not all apps need permission to access each type of data—for instance, while an AR app likely needs access to your camera to function properly, a calendar app may not.
Android 12 introduces a new privacy dashboard to help increase permissions transparency. This shows which apps have accessed the sensors on your phone in the last 24 hours and allows you to deny them further access. It’s a straightforward way to see which apps are doing what on your phone.
You can find the dashboard by going to Settings > Privacy and then opening up Privacy Dashboard (equally you can just search for it in Settings). Tap on the calendar permission, for example, and you’ll see which apps are allowed to access data from your calendar and which aren’t. Tapping on each app individually allows you to change the settings. There’s also a timeline of permission use. Open location permissions, for instance, and you can see a minute-by-minute breakdown of what app accessed where you are.
Check Microphone and Camera Access
For years there have been rumors that Facebook is using your phone’s microphone to eavesdrop on what you are saying. This isn’t true, although Facebook does track you in multiple ways. One of the new Android 12 privacy settings helps further disprove the eavesdropping myth.
When an Android app is using your phone’s microphone or camera, a small green dot will appear in the top menu bar, similar to a feature Apple added in last year’s iOS 14 release. Swiping down from the top corner of the screen opens the Quick Settings menu, where you can turn the app’s camera and microphone access off instantly. While that block is temporary, you can enter the individual app’s permissions from here and make the change permanent.
Delete Your Advertising ID
Your phone has its own advertising ID that allows apps to link data to your device—building up a profile of you and your interests—so it can then show you personalized ads based on this information. While it has been possible to opt out of this ad personalization on Android for some time, changes in Android 12 make a subtle difference.
You can now alter your settings to reset the string of numbers identifying you to a series of zeros and stop third parties from linking any information to your device in this way. (While the change isn’t specifically part of Android 12, it is rolling out on devices running the operating system first). To make the change, go to Settings > Privacy, scroll to Ads, and then tap on Delete advertising ID. It won’t mean you don’t see ads on your phone anymore, just that the ads won’t be based on your behavior and personal data.
Cover the Android Privacy Basics
While most of the new privacy settings in Android 12 focus on permissions, there are plenty of existing options that can help you protect your data and accounts—they don’t take long to change either.
You can find the majority of Android’s privacy options within the Settings app on your phone or tablet, by navigating to the Privacy menu. From here you’ll find simple toggles to turn your camera and microphone access for all apps on or off; show your passwords briefly as you type them into fields; turn off apps using your data to personalize Android settings; and turn off apps’ access to what’s on your clipboard.
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It’s also possible to limit how much data is shared across your device and with Google. The Android System Intelligence settings allow you to turn off keyboard customization settings, stopping Google from suggesting smart replies as the messages you want to send. You can also clear this data from within the same menu.
If you want to limit the amount of information Google can collect about you, open the Google location history and the Activity controls options from the privacy menu. These will take you to a Google account you’re logged into and allow you to turn off location history across Google and stop it from storing your web browsing and YouTube history. These controls aren’t specific to Android and will apply across your entire Google account and other devices you’re logged into. (If you are logged into your Google account, you can quickly limit Google storing your web activity here and change ad personalization settings here).
Beyond these changes, there are other steps you can take to keep your Android device locked down and avoid getting hacked. You should hopefully already have a screen lock in place—using a PIN, password, or biometrics—to stop people from getting into your phone. Google’s Security Checkup tool will show you how many devices you’re logged into, the apps that have access to your Google account, and passwords stored in your account.
But perhaps the two biggest things you can do to protect your device, data, and accounts—regardless of what operating system you’re on—are ensuring you’re using a password manager to create and store unique logins for every account you use and making sure multifactor authentication is turned on too.
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