How to get the most out of Android 12’s new privacy features

Privacy is undoubtedly one of the most popular phrases in computing these days, and even Google, which loves data, is getting in on the act.

There are a few privacy-related features in the Android 12 upgrade that you should look into. Some are hidden and automatic, like the new Private Computer Core, which will allow certain sorts of sensitive computation to take place in a secure environment entirely on your device. Others, on the other hand, are more surface-level. That means it’s up to you to take advantage of them — or at the very least figure out what they’re up to.

Here are the three most essential privacy improvements in Android 12 and what you need to know to take advantage of them. (Note that these instructions are for Pixel phones; directions may differ on other devices.)

DASHBOARD OF PRIVACY

Google’s gleaming new Privacy Dashboard is front and foremost in the Android 12 privacy portfolio. It’s essentially a streamlined command center that shows you how different apps access data on your smartphone and allows you to restrict access as needed.

In Google’s Android version, you can access the Privacy Dashboard in three simple steps:

  • Go to your system’s settings (by swiping down twice from the top of the screen and tapping the gear-shaped icon on the panel that appears).
  • Scroll down to the Privacy area and press it.
  • At the top of the screen, select “Privacy Dashboard.”

You can drill down into any specific sort of feature (such as “Location” or “Camera”) from the Privacy Dashboard, and you’ll get a timeline that shows you exactly which apps have accessed that function when. (You may need to touch “See other permissions” at the bottom of the page if you’re looking for something other than location, camera, or microphone.)

After that, if something doesn’t seem right, all it takes is one more tap to access an app’s permission list and limit what it can do.

INDICATORS OF SENSOR ACCESS

The next addition on the Android 12 privacy list is a feature that you’ll see on your screen from time to time but whose message isn’t always evident. Android 12 will display an indicator in the upper-right corner of your screen whenever an app accesses your phone’s camera or microphone, even if it’s only in the background.

When the indicator appears for the first time, it displays an icon corresponding to the exact access method. However, that icon is only visible for a fraction of a second before the signal turns to a tiny green dot.

So, how can you figure out what’s being accessed and which app is in charge? The key to unlocking the secret is to swipe down: Swipe down once from the top of your screen whenever you see a green dot in the corner. The bubble will revert to its original size, and you may then tap it to learn more about what’s going on.

Any app’s name in that pop-up will lead you to that app’s permission page, where you may review what types of access it allows and does not allow.

SENSOR SWITCHES WITH FAST-TOGGLE

Last but not least, a new set of toggles allows you to disable your phone’s camera, microphone, or GPS sensor with a single fast press.

The toggles are located in the Quick Settings panel of Android, and they may be concealed by default. To find them, do the following:

  • From the top of your phone’s screen, swipe down twice.
  • In the Quick Settings panel’s lower-left corner, tap the pencil-shaped icon. If you’re not using a Pixel phone, you may need to touch a three-line menu icon and then seek for a “Edit” command there instead.
  • Look for the tiles labeled “Camera access,” “Mic access,” and “Location” all the way down to the bottom of the list.
  • Press and hold each tile one at a time for a second, then slide your finger up to place it in the active area of your Quick Settings panel. The higher you go on the list, the higher it will appear.

Tap the arrow in the upper-left corner of the screen once all three are in place. In your standard Quick Settings area, the fast-toggle switches will now be present and accessible. All it takes is a quick wipe down and a tap on the right tile to turn off any connected sensor at any time.


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