You only need look along a train platform in any modern city to see just how attached (quite literally) we have all become to our smartphones. In some parts of the world, smartphone use has come close to actual ubiquity. Taking the UK as an example, 96% of 16-24 year olds now own a smartphone.

After putting aside the well-trodden debates about whether smartphones and social media are proving detrimental to “real” human relationships, it’s hard to deny that the devices offer us fantastic functionality that makes life easier. Thanks to GPS, navigating around a new place is simplicity itself; high resolution cameras make it easy to capture and share memories; and widespread Internet connectivity means constant access to knowledge.

However, it’s not all good news. Smartphones can sometimes prove almost too clever for their own good, creating situations that can potentially compromise the privacy and security of the user. Some of these needless risks are easily avoided, but smartphones are not necessarily set up by default to work in the safest way.

This article discusses three ways in which you can easily make your smartphone a little safer:

1.   Look at the permissions you are allowing to your apps.

Often, when you set up a new app on your phone, it will ask for certain permissions when you first launch it. These permissions can range from camera and microphone access (for a messaging app, for example), to access to your location (perhaps for an app concerned with navigation).

Frequently, however, the permissions an app requests are way out of step with the minimum permissions they really need to work. Why does a social network need access to your microphone if you’re not going to make voice calls? And why does an app that identifies music need to know your location?

In many cases, the app developer offers an (often spurious) reason to need such permissions in return for certain functionality. However, it’s usually possible to run apps without giving away such unfettered access to your phone’s features. It makes no sense to give a whole raft of apps permission to listen to what you’re doing or know where you are – so try to allow these things only by exception, and not as a rule.

2.   Exercise caution with public Wi-Fi.

Everyone loves free Wi-Fi! Access to decent Internet connectivity in hotels and cafés is seen as a must nowadays, and everyone is quick to take advantage of their nearest hotspot. This is particularly relevant during international travel where data roaming charges can still prove prohibitive.

However, free Wi-Fi can sometimes come with a sting in the tail. The problem is that it’s alarmingly easy to hack other people on free Wi-Fi networks. It’s quite straightforward for a hacker to sit on another table or in another hotel room, making a sneaky note of such information as your bank password or Facebook login.

If you frequently use free Wi-Fi on your phone, it’s well worth considering subscribing to an inexpensive virtual private network (VPN) service, which, when activated, will encrypt your online communications. You will find a wide range of services for iPhones and Android devices. If you choose not to use a VPN, it’s best to ensure that you don’t do anything remotely private on your smartphone when you’re on public Wi-Fi – but with a VPN, you’re much more protected.

3.   Ensure you have a backup regime.

The smartphones we all carry around are essentially very compact but fully-featured computers. They often hold a huge amount of information, including (for many of us) vast libraries of precious photos and videos.

Unfortunately, phones are easily lost, and memories can be lost with them if there’s no backup regime in place. It’s easy to use services such as Dropbox and iCloud to ensure data is kept safe, but statistics suggest that plenty of people don’t get around to it, and risk losing irreplaceable records of special moments. This is despite a third of people already having experience of losing data on a mobile device.

Smartphones can be life-enhancing gadgets, but it’s important to harness their power appropriately. These tips should help you gain a little more control over these tiny but sophisticated devices.

Incredible Planet Staff

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