Improve privacy on Android phones with the Privacy dashboard

Google has improved privacy in Android phones with each new operating system update. If you have Android 12 or later, use the privacy dashboard and quick access buttons to prevent tracking.

Phones have many ways to track you, including GPS positioning, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth access, internet connections and web browser cookies and trackers, camera and microphone monitoring.

It is almost impossible to prevent every possible means of tracking you by everything on the phone, but there are steps you can take to reduce the amount of tracking, who tracks you and how they do it.

Here I will look at the privacy dashboard in Android and see what it shows and how to prevent tracking in various ways. I will also look at quick access buttons to prevent tracking with just a swipe and a tap. Add buttons to stop microphone, camera and location access.

Android privacy dashboard

To access the Android privacy dashboard, pull down from the top of the screen as if you want to see notifications and then press the gear icon to open the Settings app. Swipe up until you see the Privacy section and press it to open it.

Android privacy dashboard on a phone
Android privacy dashboard showing privacy events

At the top of the screen is a quick view of some permissions used in the last 24 hours. You don’t need to check the privacy dashboard every day, but it is useful to check it occasionally. You might want to check it after installing and using a new app to see what it has accessed.

There is a list of permissions, like camera, microphone and location, and the number of apps that have accessed them. Tap one of these items, like Location. It shows a list of the apps that have accessed the information, whether it was in the background or while using the app, and the exact time it happened. There may be multiple entries for some apps.

App location permissions on an Android phone
Location permission for an app on Android

Tap an app in the list to go to the permissions for that app. There are at least two options and sometimes several, and the most commonly used is Allow only while using the app, which stops it accessing things that require permissions in the background without your knowledge.

You can also require the app to ask permission every time it wants to access the permission, or you can select Don’t allow to completely block access.

With location permission, there is also an option to use your precise location or a fuzzy location. If you think an app does not need your precise location, turn off the switch. When it accesses your location, it will only be told the general area, not your exact position.

See all permissions in Android

Go to Settings > Privacy. Only a few permissions are shown on the privacy dashboard home screen. Press All permissions below the three highlighted items to see everything.

Android permission usage on an Android phone: Screenshot
View Android permission usage

The Permission usage screen shows items that have been accessed in the last 24 hours or 7 days. Choose the time period in the menu at the top. All of the items show a brief list of apps that have accessed them and the most recent time. Press a permission in the list to see all the apps.

Each of the apps can be pressed to open their permissions settings, just as we saw earlier. If you think an app has no business accessing a permission, you can change the setting and block it.

Android permission manager

Go to Settings > Privacy and press Permissions Manager below the highlighted items at the top. This takes you to a new screen which looks at permissions in a different way.

Android permissions in Permission manager on a phone: Screenshot
Use the Permission manager in Android

You may find this is a better way to view permissions. Each category, like body sensors, calendar, camera and so on, shows the number of apps that are allowed access. This does not mean that they definitely have accessed them, simply that they have permission to do so.

Select a category in Permissions manager to see two lists, one of allowed apps and one of not allowed apps. As usual, you can press an app to open its settings and change permissions.

Quick panel access to permissions

Different phones do this in slightly different ways but pull down from the top of the screen to see notifications and there is a Quick Panel at the top. It is a row of icons that are used to turn various things off or on, like sound, power saving, torch, mobile data, Wi-Fi and so on.

Samsung Quick Panel settings on an Android phone: Screenshot
Configure the Quick Panel icons

Pull down from the top of the screen once to see five or six icons that are used to access common functions. Pull down twice to see the full collection of icons. Press the three dots in the corner for a menu and select Edit.

There are two screens of icons on this phone and a collection of icons that are not currently used. If you do not see Location, Camera and Microphone, drag them from the top to the bottom.

Press and drag those icons to the top left corner of the first screen. This enables them to be accessed quickly with a single swipe down the screen like this:

Quick panel settings on a Samsung phone: Screenshot
Tap the camera icon in the Quick Panel to turn it off

Here I put the camera and location icons first in the Quick Panel. Pull down, tap the microphone and microphone access can be disabled. The same with location and camera (oddly, there’s no camera icon on my phone, but some have it).

This enables you to quickly block access to certain features. Tap an icon to block permissions, press and hold to go to that permission’s settings. It can be useful at times, such as when you want to be sure your location is not being tracked or your conversation listened to.

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