Essentially, when you set a passcode, your photos, messages, and other documents are automatically encrypted, with or without fingerprint ID to unlock your phone. Apple said it couldn’t bypass the passcode even if asked by law enforcement.
Google says it will also encrypt data by default in upcoming Android updates. The option has always existed, but many people didn’t know it or bothered to turn it on.
Apple, Google and other tech companies have been trying to portray themselves as trustworthy stewards of personal information, following revelations that the NSA has been snooping on emails and other communications to identify terrorists. Apple also sought to reassure customers of its commitment to security and privacy after hacking the online accounts of celebrities whose personal photos were stored on Apple’s iCloud service.
In addition to setting a passcode, some phones have other tools to hide or protect sensitive photos and documents stored on your phone, especially if you need to lend your phone or show it to others.
Here’s a breakdown of some of these options:
Apple’s iPhone and iPad
In iOS 8, the latest software update for mobile devices, Apple has provided an easier way to hide favorite photos in the Photos app. Just press on the photo or its thumbnail and click “Hide”.
However, the photo will still appear in various albums, including a new album called “Hidden”. You can go there to unhide hidden photos.
So why bother? This feature is mainly useful when you want to let people browse through your entire photo collection. That might be when you’re sitting in the same room with a friend or giving a presentation in front of a large audience. As long as you still control the device, you can hide embarrassing or incriminating photos – like nude selfies. If you give it to a friend and go out, your friend can browse the albums section.
Samsung Galaxy Devices
The Samsung Galaxy S5 (Review I Pictures) phone has introduced a private mode. You can turn it on in the settings under “Private Mode” in the “Personalization” section.
Then you mark something as private from your phone. For photos, for example, just go to the Gallery app and select the photo or album you want to keep private. Then tap the menu icon for the “Move to Private” option. This also applies to selected videos, music, recordings.
After marking the file as private, you need to go back to settings to turn off private mode. Think of the setup as the door to a vault. Opening it will open the door, allowing you to move things in and out. Closing it closes and locks the door. It’s the opposite of what you might think: Privacy Mode needs to be turned off to keep your content safe.
Once locked, it is as if the content never existed. No one will ever know what’s in the vault, or if there’s anything in it. To unlock the vault, you need a password or fingerprint ID.
The private mode feature is also part of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S tablet and upcoming Galaxy Note phone.
LG’s flagship phones have a guest mode. You can lend your phone to a friend without giving your friend access to everything. You can even set individual unlock codes for guests so you don’t have to provide your own.
Look for “Guest Mode” in the settings under the “General” tab. Then, you specify which applications your guests can access. For example, you might want to allow access to phone calls, alarms, and music, but you might want to block email and text messages.
In some cases, guests have limited access to your content. With the Gallery app, your photo collections usually don’t appear unless they’re in the “Guest Albums.” Guests can also take pictures and have them appear there. On the other hand, if you enable access to the Photos app, your guests will get everything. Again, there are no restrictions on emails or texts if you allow access to these apps.
I recommend logging in as a guest – using an alternate code – to verify what’s available after you select an allowed app.
In addition to Guest Mode, the LG G3 (Review | Pictures) allows you to lock certain images in the Gallery app during normal use, similar to what Galaxy devices offer.
These tips only touch on what you can do to protect your privacy.
For example, these only apply to data stored on the device. For files stored on Internet-based storage services like iCloud and Dropbox, you need to make sure you have a strong password and turn on a second layer of protection, commonly known as two-step verification. I covered this in a previous column, which can be found here.
You also need to be careful about the data shared through the app.
With iOS, you can choose which apps can know your location and time, such as always or only when the app is running. Go to Location Services settings under Privacy. Unfortunately, Android tends to be all-or-nothing. You can turn off location services, but this affects all apps, including Maps and other apps that might need your location.
For iOS and Android, you can choose to limit ad targeting based on your interests and browsing history. For an explainer, read our column.