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Take control of your apps’ permissions

Permissions let Google Maps check where you are in the world, your camera app peek through the phone’s lens, and your favorite messenger scan your contacts before sending a text. Typically, apps request this type of access when you first open them. But you might end up granting some permissions that go beyond what the apps actually need. To check on these, you should regularly audit your app permissions.

Periodic permissions checks protect you against potentially unscrupulous app developers and give you more control over your privacy. As an added bonus, if fewer apps are working away in the background, your phone can save on battery life. Here’s how to get checking.

To find your apps and their permissions on Android, open the Settings and then tap Apps. The menu will show you shortcuts to the permission settings of the four apps you most recently opened, but right under the last one, you can access a full list of every app you’ve installed on your phone.

Tap the name of the app you’re interested in and select Permissions to see all the privileges it enjoys. You’ll see a clear list of the privileges you have granted under Allowed, and those you have denied under Not Allowed—tap on any one to change it. Most times, you’ll be able to choose between Allow only while using the app, Ask every time, and Don’t allow.

At the end of that menu, in what seems more like text than an actionable button, you’ll also see another option: See all apps with this permission. When you tap on it you’ll see a list of all of the apps with that same privilege broken down into categories depending on how and when they can have that specific access. To change anything that doesn’t sit right with you, tap the name of the app and change the permission.

If you want to have a more granular understanding of what an app can and cannot access, go back to the Permissions menu, tap on the three dots in the top-right corner of your screen and select All permissions. There you’ll see different items, like Camera, Location, and Files and Media, and whether or not the app is allowed to get to them. But under each category, you’ll also be able to see exactly what the app can do with the access it has. For example, you’ll see if the tool can only read the contents of your storage, or if it can also modify and even delete them. Tapping each item on the list will give you a more detailed explanation of what that permission means, though sometimes you’ll only get the same description as on the previous menu but with a couple more words.

Another option is to browse by permission rather than by app. Open Settings, go to Privacy, and choose Permission manager. Here, you’ll find a list that includes Body sensors, Calendar, Camera, Contacts, Location, Microphone, SMS, Storage, Telephone, and more. Tap any entry to see which apps can access that particular function. Again, you can make any necessary changes by tapping the name of an app and changing the permission as indicated on the next menu.

However, before you start cutting off permissions, remember that some apps rely on this access to do their jobs. For example, if an app can view your contacts, it might be using them to help you share content, to split a ride-hailing fare, or to invite people to an event—not to mine your data for profit.

If you’re not sure why an app is asking for a particular permission, don’t shut it down immediately. First, look at its official website or its listing on the Google Play Store to see if it explains why it needs that access. Or contact the developer directly to ask why the program requested a certain permission.

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