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Cyanogen OS Privacy Guard — keeping apps from seeing your data

Personal security, especially when it comes to privacy on mobile devices, is all about the balance between convenience and usefulness. We use dozens of apps every day, each of which ask for access to an enormous amount of personal information in order to function. For many, it's an imperceptibly small sacrifice to make for access to the services provided by the app, especially when the alternative is not using the app at all.

Cyanogen OS includes a feature that acts as a reasonable middle ground, called Privacy Guard. Instead of having to choose between not using the app and offering your data as payment, Privacy Guard lets you deny the app certain kinds of information without interfering with functionality. Here's how it works.

Privacy Guard is one of those things you didn't know you wanted on your phone, and when it's doing what you want it to be doing you never really know it's there. It's not even something advertised particularly well in Cyanogen OS, you have to go through two layers of settings menus — Settings>Privacy>Privacy Guard for the uninitiated — to even get to the feature, much less use it effectively. This is largely because Privacy Guard is only meant to be used by those with a decent understanding of how apps work on your phone, and what individual permissions actually do. Abusing Privacy Guard by trying to disable every permission can lead to apps misbehaving to catastrophic effect, so it's important you're aware of the consequences when you head in to the service.

Privacy Guard

Essentially, Privacy Guard allows you to interrupt the flow of information you agreed to provide when installing the app. You can remove the ability to provide location data, disable access to your contacts list, and a whole lot more depending on what the app has asked for. You activate the toggle within Privacy Guard, and the flow of data stops. This gets set per app, so you can get as detailed as you want and even choose to activate certain features temporarily with the all on/all off toggle at the top. You can deny information to any app on your phone, including the ones made and released by Cyanogen. If you decide to leave Privacy Guard enabled, you'll also get pop-up notifications when an app is requesting certain kinds of information.

It's a handy feature to have, and almost dangerously simple to use. While Google does a great job keeping the Play Store free of malicious apps, control over your personal data is a choice everyone should have. Privacy Guard is something everyone could take advantage of if used correctly, but the lack of a beginner tutorial or more detailed explanation of how things could go wrong — outside of the alert you get when first accessing the feature — limits its usefulness to the skilled.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

  • Sounds like what Google has coming, excellent idea and they should release a version that would work on all android phones. I'd pay money for this kind of app Posted via Android Central App
  • I would consider Cyanogen OS for this feature alone. Android needs to reimplement this asap. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Didn't Android already have this (and was removed) in something called App Ops?
  • Yep, back on JB I think. Google said it was a mistake that it was included at the time and could break apps though. I don't think anyone believed them. I am sure developers hate it.
  • this feature is based out of App ops
  • Yes but Privacy Gruard way better than App Ops it's like Gingerbread vs KitKat. It's at least couple iterations better. And to be honest it's the only thing holding me to CM.
  • Just search for App Ops in the Play Store. There are plenty to choose from, so take your pick of the ones that work with your version of Android. Some work without root access, which is an added bonus. I have it working perfectly well on my rooted LG G3 running Lollipop.
  • Seems like it only works on lollipop without root. Posted via Android Central App on 1+1
  • Yea um that only works for root and was removed from being accessible since. 4.4.2 KitKat. Obviously you didn't know that Posted via the Sailfish iMore app
  • This should be implemented on stock android. I like that you can use this even if you aren't rooted. It's good to block google play services from waking up your device. Posted via Android Central App on 1+1
  • Why is an app like App Ops allowed in the Play Store if something like Adaway is not? Didn't adaway get removed because it could affect other apps? Seems like App Ops would fall under the same category.
  • But AppOps on the play store is from third party sources and not from Google directly where which the app allows to open the AppOps that came with 4.3. Remember that AppOps was removed and became in accessible under 4.4.2 Posted via the Sailfish iMore app
  • I'll use this for one purpose; Disabling all wakelocks minus SystemUI.
  • Russel Holy been killing it with these awesome cyanogen OS post as of late. Good job brother. Posted via One+1
  • Very smart one
  • Love Privacy Guard.
    It's always active not right now on Android Central. Posted via the Sailfish iMore app
  • This needs to be in mainstream Android, at least when in developer mode. And with one other feature- "fake data". You can leave the permission on, but provide fake data (fake contacts, fake location info, etc) so the apps don't know you are being private and also will not malfunction.
  • Privacy Guard is the only way I can run Facebook.
    Some additional info about privacy options:
  • I use it on cm12. Its brilliant Posted via the Android Central App
  • This new 5.1.1 ROM I'm using has privacy guard, but Facebook is still able to get to my camera roll pictures. Why is that? Thanks.