Your guide to managing Android app permissions

Your guide to managing Android app permissions

Published: Oct 5, 2021

So you want to get serious about privacy, especially in the wake of the recent spate of high-profile cases about webcam hacks, privacy policy changes, social media impersonation scams and more.

But where do we even begin tackling this complex, multi-platform, multi-factor issue? Let’s start small with app permissions.

What are app permissions?

But first, what are app permissions? Simply put, an app permission grants apps access to your phone’s system and your information.

For example, if you grant an app permission to access your contacts, they will be able to read (i.e. view) your contacts, edit your contact list (i.e. add or delete contacts), and even communicate with people on your contact list.

Now, let’s dive right into the wild world of app permissions and the steps you can take to better manage them in Android.

General tips for permissions

Generally, the access requested should make sense. For example, you wouldn’t want to grant location access to a simple flashlight app, but it makes sense to grant it to a map app. (Speaking of flashlight apps, you probably don’t need one—most phones have a Torch shortcut).

Unsure about an app and why it’s asking for a specific type of permission? Deny it access and check if the app becomes less functional.

If you can use that app as usual, then that permission was likely not critical. Do research on the app to make sure it’s not malicious.

Quick steps you can take

Follow these simple steps to start managing your app permissions.

Step 1: Delete your unused apps

  • Google Play lets you sort your app list according to “Last Used” to help you better make this decision.

  • Go to the side menu and tap My apps & games > Installed, then sort your apps by “Last Used”.

  • Besides clearing up space on your device, removing old apps regularly also helps make your phone more secure.

Step 2: Remove unused accounts from Google

  • Some deleted apps may still have access to your Google accounts and details.

  • Do a cleanup by revoking third-party access.

  • Go to myaccount.google.com, sign in and verify, and click Security > Third-party apps with account access. Select the app, then select Remove access.

Step 3: Look through your app permissions

  • Review your apps and the permissions access you’ve granted them, and revoke them if you think something doesn’t seem quite right.

  • Go to Settings > Privacy > Permission manager, and tap into the individual permissions to view the apps that have access to them.

  • Some apps might stop functioning properly if denied critical permission access, but you can always return and re-enable access.

Permissions and access granted

To access the list of permissions, go to Settings > Privacy > Permission manager.

  • Body sensors: Allow access to health data from paired devices such as heart rate monitors and fitness trackers.

  • Calendar: Apps can read, create, edit, or delete events on your default calendar.

  • Call logs: Apps can read and write phone call logs, i.e. the calls you receive and make. In general, most apps don’t need access to this permission.

  • Camera: Apps can take pictures and record video. By default, Android no longer allows apps from accessing your camera all the time, letting you choose from “Allow only while using the app”, “Ask every time” and “Deny”.

  • Contacts: Allows access to your contact list; that means apps can read and edit your contact list, and possibly send messages to or call the people on that list.

  • Files and media: Apps can read, change, and delete your files, photos, music, videos, and documents on your device.

  • Location: Another big one, location access allows apps to read your current location and location history. Android now lets you choose to only grant permission while the app is in use, or to have the app ask every time.

  • Microphone: Lets apps capture audio. Like the camera permission, you can also choose from “Allow only while using the app”, “Ask every time” and “Deny”.

  • Telephone: Allows apps to know your phone number, cell network information and call status. Apps can also make and end calls, see all call details, call logs, and redirect calls.

  • SMS: Apps can read, send, and receive SMS and MMS messages.

  • Physical Activity: Access information about your physical activity, e.g. walking, cycling, step counts.

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