Control Your Smartphone Data

to increase your online privacy

Download and print this guide here. Share your Data Detox experience, keep in touch, or get inspiration for activities by writing to Safa at datadetox@tacticaltech.org!

If you think about what your data tells others about you, it may not seem like that big of a deal: who cares if you’re a fan of country music, like to buy more shoes than you need, or start planning your next vacation a year in advance?

The problem lies in what’s happening with your data. Taken together over time, intimate digital patterns emerge: your habits, movements, relationships, preferences, beliefs, and secrets are revealed to those who analyze and profit from them, like businesses and data brokers.

As you follow this Data Detox, you’ll get a glimpse into how and why this is all happening, and take practical steps to control your data traces across the internet.

Let’s get started!


1. Change Your Device Name

At some point, you may have “named” your phone for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or both – or maybe the name was automatically generated during setup.

This means that “Alex Chung’s Phone” is what’s visible to the Wi-Fi network owner and, if your Bluetooth is turned on, to everyone in the area who has their Bluetooth on as well.

You wouldn’t announce your name as you enter a café, restaurant, or airport, so neither should your phone.

You can change the name of your phone to something less personally identifying, yet still uniquely you. Here’s how:

Android:

  • Change Wi-Fi name:
    • Settings
    • Wi-Fi
    • logo menu →
    • Advanced / More features
    • Wi-Fi Direct
    • Rename Device
  • Change Bluetooth name:
    • Settings
    • Bluetooth
    • Turn Bluetooth on if it's off →
    • logo menu →
    • Rename Device
    • Turn Bluetooth off

 

iPhone:

  • Change phone name:
    • Settings
    • General
    • About
    • Change the name

Need ideas? How about the name of your favorite television character or a phrase like “Open Sesame”?

Do you want more tips on how to make your phone more private? Learn how to Give Your Device a Fresh Start!


2. Clear Your Location Footprints

While it may seem like your location data are just random bits of information, when they’re seen all together, they could reveal important details about you and your habits, like where you live, where you work, and where you like to hang out with your friends. That’s what makes it highly sought-after by many companies and data brokers.

It might be normal for, say, your maps app to have access to where you are. But you might be surprised to see how many apps you’ve given permission to access your location.

You can go through each app’s permissions and turn off the location services. Look for the apps that don’t actually need it for the service (does that game really need to know where you are?) and for the ones who you don’t want to have it:

Android:

  • Settings
  • Apps
  • Manage location access on a per-app basis

 

iPhone:

  • Settings
  • Privacy
  • Location services
  • Manage location access on a per-app basis

Or you can turn off your location information for your whole phone whenever you aren’t actively using it. This will also make your battery last longer – bonus! You can turn it back on again when you need to use your map or weather app, for example.

Gif showing location services being turned off

Android:

  • Settings
  • Security & Location / Location
  • Turn location off

 

iPhone:

  • Settings
  • Privacy
  • Location services
  • Turn them off

For tips on how to turn off location services for Google Maps and other Google accounts, Degooglise Your Life.


3. Tidy Up Your Apps

Your social media apps, games, and weather apps are interested in your data … and they may be collecting quite a lot of it.

Getting rid of those random apps on your phone that you never use can be a powerful way to detox your digital self.

Plus, tidying up can also free up space on your phone, decrease data use, and increase battery life. This can even increase overall performance, depending on the app.

Android:

  • Settings
  • Apps
  • Select the app you want to uninstall →
  • Uninstall

 

iPhone:

  • Press and hold on one app icon until a menu appears.
  • Select the delete app option from the list.
  • Confirm deleting the app.

If you’ve paid to use a service, ensure you’ve canceled any potential future charges (so you don’t get a surprise bill). The steps for ensuring this will vary depending on each service, so check out their Frequently Asked Questions page or reach out to their customer support for guidance.

Cleaning up your apps can make a significant difference in how much of your data you’re putting out there, and that can affect how much companies may collect and use your data to make assumptions about you. For many apps, there’s an alternative out there that performs a similar function, but doesn’t collect or sell your data to others.

You can find recommendations in the Alternative App Centre.

If it feels overwhelming to replace the tools you use, just start with one or two. For starters, look at your browser: can you replace it with Firefox, Chromium or another more private service?

Do you want more tips on tidying up your apps? Try an app cleanse!


4. Reduce Your Traces

The browser on your phone stores a lot of information about you – your location, what you search for, which websites you use – and may give that information away.

You can regain control of some of that info by making a few changes.

Phones, tablets, and computers tend to come pre-installed with browsers that don’t prioritize your privacy. Instead, you can download and use a browser that already keeps your web activity more private by default, shielding you from trackers.

And for some added privacy boosters, you can install extras known as “add-ons and extensions” (these are easy-to-install mini-programs for your browser that can make your online activity more private).

To block spying ads and invisible trackers, install uBlock Origin (for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox) or Privacy Badger (for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera).

To make sure your connections to websites are secure where possible, install HTTPS Everywhere: a browser extension that ensures that your communication with many major websites is encrypted and protected in transit. If you’re a Safari user who’d like this feature, set your default search engine to a non-Google product like DuckDuckGo, which redirects you to encrypted connections automatically.

Firefox offers many other ways to further fortify your browser. Check out addons.mozilla.org to find more.

Looking for more ways to fortify your browser? Try the full browser booster experience!


5. Untag Yourself and Others

Have you contributed to your friends’ data build-up by tagging them in photos and posts in the past?

Lighten their data load (and your conscience in the process) by untagging them in as many photos and posts as you can.

Pass it on! Encourage your friends, family, and co-workers to join you in controlling fly-away data. If we all work together to control our data traces, we can better help each other detox.

If these steps worked for you and you’re feeling lighter, then why not try to Degooglise Your Life or Renovate Your Social Media Profile? Or, if you just want to use your phone a bit less often, check out Smartphones Call for Smart Habits.

Last updated on: 4/22/2021