Give Your Device a Fresh Start

Your smartphone is a primary producer of data that spreads to companies, data brokers and networks, and this part of the detox is all about helping you rein it in.

First we’ll take a look at how and where data is created and collected, and then we’ll start the detox to give your device a fresh start.

Simmer Down

Your phone constantly craves connection – with or without your participation. It’s also really not picky about what it connects to: mobile networks, Wi-Fi networks, other devices (for example, through Bluetooth).

Your phone’s approach to existence is to broadcast continuously on every available open channel: “I’m here! Over here! It’s meeee!” – and to try to connect to any signals it can.

You may have even heard reports in the news about how easy it is for your personal data to get into just about anyone’s hands.

But did you know there are a few steps you can take to reduce the amount of data you put out there?


Don’t Call Me by Your 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

Note: there are many different versions of Android out there, and you might have to dig around a bit to find a particular setting. This is a great opportunity to get to know your phone better!

iPhone:

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

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


Clean Up Your Mobile Browsing

Transform your mobile browser into a data-detoxed version of itself.

  1. Delete your browsing history:

Android:

  • Firefox:
    • Open Firefox →
    • logo menu →
    • Settings
    • Clear private data
  • Chrome:
    • Open Chrome →
    • logo menu →
    • History
    • Clear browsing data...

 

iPhone:

  • Firefox:
    • Open Firefox →
    • logo menu →
    • Settings
    • Clear private data
  • Safari:
    • Settings
    • Safari
    • Clear History and Website Data
  1. Use your browser’s Private Browsing mode. On Android, Firefox is a good choice; for iPhone, Firefox and Safari both offer this mode.

Android:

  • Firefox:
    • Open Firefox →
    • logo menu →
    • New Private Tab

 

iPhone:

  • Firefox:
    • Open Firefox →
    • Tab icon →
    • Mask icon →
    • +
  • Safari:
    • Open Safari →
    • "Double window" icon →
    • Highlight Private
    • +
  1. For both iPhone and Android, Firefox Focus uses Private Browsing by default, with ad-blocking built in as well.

  2. Switch to a privacy-enhancing search engine, like DuckDuckGo, if one is not already the default (check out the Alternative App Centre for other suggestions).

  • Keep them on when you need them; disconnect when you don’t.
  • Reduce how much data your phone broadcasts: switch off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you’re not using them. In the same way you don’t keep the water running when you’re not using it, make a habit of switching these off when not in use as well.

Stop the Location Data Free-For-All

No smartphone detox would be complete without talking about your location data – something your phone generates all the time, even when you’re not using it.

Because location data can reveal so much about who you are and what you’re interested in, it’s also highly sought after by big tech companies and data brokers: everyone wants a piece of it.

To see how much can be discovered from your location data alone, go to your location history:

  • Android:
    • Open Google Maps →
    • logo menu →
    • Your timeline
    • Select individual items for more detail.

 

  • iPhone:
    • Settings
    • Privacy
    • Location Services
    • Scroll down and select System Services
    • Scroll down and select Frequent/Significant Locations
    • Select individual items for more detail.

Now look at your history as if you were someone else:

  • What were you doing this time two weeks ago?
  • Where do you live and work? (can you tell based on where you spend the most time during the day and overnight?)
  • Where do you go in your spare time?
  • Where do you like to shop?
  • What time do you go to the gym?

While it may seem like these are just random bits of information, altogether this could be enough for someone to piece together a story about what kind of person you are.

This exposé by the New York Times takes you through examples of how easy it can be for someone to understand your life and habits through your location alone.

To learn more about data brokers, check out our Data Detox Digest: Smartphone Edition.


Clear Your Location Footprints

You can undergo a simple location data detox in order to limit the amounts of location clues you give out going forward.

Deny location permissions now to all the apps that don’t actually need them to function.

  • Android:
    • Settings
    • Apps
    • App permissions
    • Manage location access on a per-app basis.

 

  • iPhone:
    • Settings
    • Privacy
    • Location Services
    • Manage location access on a per-app basis.

For a clean slate, delete your location history.

  • Google Maps:
    • logo menu →
    • Your Timeline
    • logo menu →
    • Settings
    • Scroll down to Delete all Location History

 

  • iPhone:
    • Settings
    • Privacy
    • Location Services
    • Scroll down and select System Services
    • Clear History

If you’d like a challenge, you can take this location data wipe one step further by turning off your phone’s location services. This will also make your battery last longer – bonus! You can easily turn it back on again when you need to use your map or weather app, for example.

Gif of location services being turned off

Android:

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

 

iPhone:

  • Settings
  • Privacy
  • Location services
  • Turn them off

Note: this doesn’t turn off location tracking entirely as your phone still transmits location information through phone towers and Wi-Fi networks.


Refresh and Renew

You did it! Your phone is now sparkling clean.

While some of the detox you did was a one-time settings update, there are a couple of things worth revisiting every once in a while. Periodically go in and delete your browsing and location history.

Also, anytime you download a new app, keep an eye on the app permissions to ensure they aren’t oversharing information about you.

Quiet your phone, ease your mind

A good digital wellness practice is to put your phone in flight mode for a couple of hours. Try it out tomorrow, when you’re not expecting any important calls. You might find the brief mobile sabbatical leaves you refreshed and renewed!

Pass it on!

Once you feel rejuvenated, be sure to recommend a smartphone detox to a friend or colleague. With just a few small steps, they too can start detoxing their mobile lives!

What next?