Android app permissions: Check before and after installing

Android app permissions lags behind iOS and apps used lax Google Play Store rules to access too much, but times are changing. View app permissions in the store, change them after installing.

One advantage of iPhones and iOS is that Apple has been more privacy-focused than Google with Android. However, Android is catching up and is adopting some of the privacy features only Apple devices had.

The privacy nutrition labels in the Apple App Store show exactly what information an app collects about you and which parts of the iPhone can be accessed, like location, camera, contacts and so on.

Now the Google Play Store is adopting a similar approach and you can see detailed information about what an app can access on your Android phone before you install it. After reading the list of everything an app can access, you can then make a decision about whether to install it or not.

After installation, you can open app permissions and change them, which will limit what an app can access.

You can see the new style of Google Play Store privacy nutrition labels on some newer apps or recently updated ones right now. As with the Apple App Store, old apps in the Google Play Store that have not been updated may show little or no privacy information.

It will take time for all apps in the Play Store to be updated, but slowly you will begin to see the new features. Let’s take a look at the permissions information in the Play Store and see how to enable or disable permissions for apps installed on your Android phone.

I will be using Android 11 on a Samsung phone for this, which is currently the most used Android version and phone brand. Improvements to permissions have been made to Android 12, so you will see more features if you use that version, but currently only 11.7% of phones are running it (Android Version Market Share).

View Android app permissions in Google Play Store

The information that Google Play Store shows about apps varies a great deal. Old apps that were submitted when the rules were more lax show less information than new or recently updated apps. Here is an app that has been around for years, but it still appears near the top of the store’s most popular apps list.

The main app screen

An app in the Google Play Store shown on an Android phone
An app in the Google Play Store

Where is the information about permissions for this app? It is not obvious there is any. There is nothing on the main screen and you must press the arrow to the right of About…

Ads, app rating and more

Screenshot of app information in the Google Play Store
App information in Google Play Store

On the next screen, if you scroll down a little, is a section titled More info. This shows the PEGI game rating and PEGI 7 means it is suitable for children of age 7 and up. It also says that the app contains ads and it uses Google Play Games.

There is still no app permissions information, but keep on swiping up until you get to the bottom of this screen.

Screenshot of app information in the Google Play Store
App information in Google Play Store

Right down at the bottom among the app information, and the very last item, is App permissions. Press See More.

Android app permissions

Screenshot of app permissions in the Google Play Store
Old style app permissions in Google Play Store

Finally, we can see a list of Android app permissions. It shows what the app can access or control on the phone. This is useful, but it is not the best that can be found in the Google Play Store. This is the old style of app permissions. Let’s see the new style.

Screenshot of app permissions in the Google Play Store
App permissions in the Google Play Store

Take a look at Microsoft Outlook Android app permissions and you see the new style of permissions screen. Everything is organized into categories and there is much more information. It is easier to see what the app does and what it can access. This is much better. The screenshot does not show all the app permissions and swiping up reveals more categories and more things it can access and do on your phone.

What about Facebook? Meta (Facebook) has been in the spotlight for years and has faced a lot of criticism about privacy because of the data it collects about you. It is interesting to look at the Facebook app’s privacy screen.

Screenshot of Facebook app permissions in the Google Play Store
Facebook permissions run to several screens

The screenshot above is not the whole permissions and it is just a small part of it. The permissions go on and on. Take a look. Swipe up and up and eventually you get to the Other section, which you can see above.

To be fair, Facebook does tell you everything it does on the permissions screen, but wow, there is a lot and it seems to go on forever. The company is trying to dodge criticism by providing very detailed permissions information, then it can say, well we did tell you…

The problem is that people rarely check app permissions before installing an app. After reading this, you might change you mind about having Facebook on your phone.

Change Android app permissions

It is useful to be able to see what permissions an app requires before installing it from the store, but what about all the apps you currently have on your phone? You can change the permissions for installed apps quite easily. Let’s take a look.

View App info in Settings

Screenshot of an Android app details in Settings
Android app info screen

Open the Settings app on your phone and then press Apps to see a list of the apps installed. I selected one at random. There is nothing special about this app and it is fairly typical of the apps you might have on your phone.

Notice that there is a Permissions section and there is a very brief summary of the permissions allowed under it. Press it to get a more detailed view of the permissions.

View Android app permissions

Screenshot of Android app permissions
Android app permissions in Settings

Here you can see what has been allowed and what has been denied. In this case, Files and media, and Location permissions have been granted, while Camera and Phone have been denied.

Notice the switch at the bottom, Remove permissions if app isn’t used. It is quit common to have apps on the phone that are not used. Apps bundled with the phone may not be useful, an app you used once, like a game, may not be played anymore, and so on. If you do not use an app for a time, maybe a few months, permissions are removed.

Don’t worry, this just means that if you ever use the app again, you will be asked if you want to permit access to the location, camera, phone, contacts, whatever.

Press one of the permissions on this screen, such as Location, to see the options.

Change Android app permissions

Screenshot of app permissions in Android
Change app permissions in Android

When one of the permissions is pressed, like Location, the options are displayed. There are four in this case and the choice is yours. In this case, location is useful so I can find the nearest burger when I have a craving.

Notice the link at the bottom: See all apps with this permission. Press that to continue.

All apps with a permission

See all app permissions in Android
See all apps with a permission in Android

Now you can see all the other apps that have this permission. Browse the list and see if there are any apps that do not need this permission. You can then go into the app’s permissions and change them.

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