3 essential privacy tips for your new Android phone

Android phones are awesome and make for pretty great holiday gifts. They're also different than most other types of phones, and there's a learning curve. It's cool — all great stuff takes a bit of time to master.

If you were gifted an Android and it's your first time using one, or if you've been doing the Android thing a while and just want to do a quick privacy checkup, here are three simple things you should do that help keep all your personal information away from anyone who shouldn't have it.

Enable the lock screen

A password, PIN or pattern or any other tools that your phone might have to make sure you're the only person who can see what's there is the first thing you need to enable. These can be made more efficient using a fingerprint, but there's always some sort of password behind it.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised at how many folks just don't bother. Without any type of protection on your phone's lock screen, anyone who picks it up can look at your photos, your texts, chats, and everything else. Even worse, they can get access to your Google account through the Gmail app with that they have your entire internet history, too.

More: Best Password Managers for Android

This is easier than you might think. Typing out a long password on a phone keyboard can be a pain, but chances are your new Android phone came with a fingerprint sensor that can be setup to unlock everything with only the fingers you choose. Take the time to go through and protect yourself.

We're not suggesting this so you can keep secrets from your family and friends (though I'm the only person who can unlock my phone). Just that who can see your digital life should be people you choose and not anyone. Especially the person who might find your phone if you lose it.

Don't pirate apps

There are several good reasons why you shouldn't pirate apps for your phone, and one very important one is malware.

You might have heard about malware on Android phones. It makes for an interesting and scary story. It's not nearly as bad as some people want you to think, and almost all of it comes from downloading apps somewhere besides the official store(s) that came with your phone. the Google Play store has over a million apps and it's patrolled for bad apps by Google. You might have an app store from the people who made your phone, like Samsung or LG. Those are safe, too. Stick to what's there and you won't have any troubles.

It's easy to pirate apps on Android. It's almost as easy to drop a bit of malware into an app before it's uploaded. There are other safe places to get apps — F-Droid and Amazon come to mind — but while you're learning the ropes you're better off sticking to the app stores that comes on your phone.

Read those boring privacy policies

Privacy policy

Any app that holds any of your data should have a privacy policy available to read right from its app store page. It's the most important thing on that page and the last thing you should read before you hit the install button.

I know they're boring. Some of them are hard to understand and make your brain hurt. Mine, too. But it's also the only way to know what the people who made an app want to do and are allowed to do with any of the information you give them. Complaining when a company does something you don't like with your data does no good if you agreed to let them. And companies are getting better at writing a policy that is easy to read and sounds friendly.

We're not suggesting that everyone in the world is out to steal all your data. Companies, both big and small, who try to get squirrelly with our information don't escape the limelight and wrath of the internet. But things that might be OK for others might not be OK for you. The only way you'll know is to read exactly what you going to be using.

The phones we use and the people who make them aren't going to try and be harmful with your personal stuff. Neither is Google. But they do use your data in certain ways so a lot of it is collected on your phone. Keep it safe and decide who gets to use it on your terms.

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Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.