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It’s garbage day for unused apps: Tips for individuals for increasing the security of mobile devices

Mobile apps pictured beside a garbage can.

Whether playing games, listening to music or tracking the day’s steps, many of us find mobile devices – and all their apps – indispensable assistants to our daily lives. But whether you use them every day, or download and forget them, apps may be doing more than just occupying real estate on your phone. They may be collecting and sharing information about you.

An investigation into the Tim Hortons app by the OPC and privacy regulators in Quebec, B.C. and Alberta found the company was collecting vast amounts of sensitive location data about users, even when they weren’t using the app – including when they were out of the country.

This kind of location data can be used to make inferences about you – including where you live and work, your sexual orientation and what medical conditions you might have.

Regularly reviewing and deleting your apps can make your phone more secure. So take a look at your phone’s home screen. If you see more apps than you use, it might be time for some housekeeping.

To limit the information your mobile device and apps share about you, look for settings to control:

Collection and use of location data

Check and adjust geolocation settings on your mobile devices. Geolocation information can identify the location of a person, computer or mobile device. You can often adjust so that location is always accessible or only while the app is running.

Access to your device and the apps you are using

Some mobile apps may request access to your location, contacts, calendar, photos, cameras and microphone, and should explain why and how they wish to use it. Turn off these options if they are not needed to use the app, and close your apps when you are not using them to further limit information sharing.

Access to your accounts

Some apps may request access to your accounts on sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Google. When you are no longer using an app, you should unlink it from your accounts and device through the settings. Delete apps that you are no longer using.

Tracking of web browsing history

Look for private browsing options and add content blockers that prevent your browsing information from being shared. Your settings will also allow you to block third-party cookies on your browser.

Device features

Use the automatic lock and password protect features on your device. This will help prevent other people from using it or being able to see the personal information on it.

For more detailed information, including tips related to privacy settings when using social media sites or other online services, mobile devices and mobile apps, home digital assistants, wearables and online games, read our tips for using privacy settings.

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