How To: Everything You Need to Disable on Your Galaxy S9 for Privacy & Security

Everything You Need to Disable on Your Galaxy S9 for Privacy & Security

The more we use our smartphones, the more we fill them up with personal data. This has some obvious benefits like getting a more personalized experience with our devices. On the other hand, this treasure trove of data can be time bomb waiting to explode in terms of privacy.

There are many threats to look out for when it comes to your privacy. Hackers are always on the prowl for private data to exploit. And on the other side of the coin, law enforcement has the ability to arbitrarily subpoena your phone when it suits their needs. Even a friend looking over your shoulder and seeing private information can have serious repercussions.

Fortunately, the Galaxy S9 has plenty of settings that you can tweak to help reclaim some security and privacy. A lot of these options are enabled by default, but it's to look them over in case you've changed something along the way. Below, we'll take you through all of the settings that can harden your device against unwanted access.

1. Location History

If you excitedly rushed through your S9's initial setup, you more than likely gave your phone access to record your location history. If you're unaware, this feature constantly logs your movements, and can be accessed at any time by going to this link and signing in with the Google credentials you use on your phone.

Obviously, you'll want to turn this feature off if you feel like its benefits are outweighed by its sheer creepiness. To do so, start by going to the Connections menu in your S9's main Settings. From there, tap the word "Location" (don't toggle the switch), then choose "Google Location History."

From there, you can disable the feature by toggling the switch at the top of the screen. A confirmation prompt will appear once you toggle Google Location History off, so tap on "OK" to confirm, and you're all set.

2. App Notifications & Popups

It's always a great idea to set the notification settings for certain apps to private and keep prying eyes from away from your device. For this, you'll need to go to the Notifications menu in Settings and disable the toggle switch next to each app to prevent it from showing notifications altogether.

Finally, some apps let you receive notifications silently, so if you want an app to notify you, but in a more private manner, this is the option to set. To do so, tap on the app's name as to go to its menu. From there, tap on "Default" to open "Notification Category," then select "Importance." Tap on "Low" to disable audio and visual cues to receive nondescript notifications moving forward.

3. Lock Screen Notifications

Notification previews that appear on your lock screen should also be of concern. These lock screen previews can easily be seen by others if you're not paying attention, and can potentially lead to headaches. So to make these notifications more private, go to the Lock screen and security menu in Settings and select "Notifications" (not the toggle switch).

You have several ways to proceed from there. First, you can disable lock screen notifications altogether by toggling the switch at the top of the screen. You can also hide the content of notifications (the actual message) by enabling the switch next to "Hide content," or take things a step further by enabling the "Notification icons only" setting.

Alternatively, you can hide notification content for individual apps by going into "Notifications" as shown in Tip 2. To enable, tap on the name of the app itself to take you to its own menu. From there, tap on the "On Lock Screen" tab, and select "Hide Content" from the box that appears.

4. Notification Access

Certain apps require access to your device's notifications for legitimate reasons — as an example, there's the WhatsRemoved app, which lets you view deleted messages on WhatsApp by recording notifications as they come in. While notification access is needed by some specialized apps, most don't need this level of access to function properly.

So if you want to make sure that a third-party app doesn't have access to read your incoming notifications, go to the Apps menu in Settings, then tap the menu button and choose "Special permissions." From there, select "Notification access," then simply disable the feature for any suspicious apps.

5. Camera, Microphone & Location Access

Opening an app for the first time will usually take you to a walk-through screen to demonstrate its features and give you options like "Next" and "OK" as you proceed with setup. If you weren't paying close attention, however, one of those screens could have been a permission request, and you might have accidentally approved the app to access sensitive data.

Don't worry if you did, as you can go into your phone and check at any time by going to the Apps menu in Settings, then tapping on the menu button in the top-right corner and selecting "App permissions." From here, you'll see a list of all of the data that third-party apps can access, with the most sensitive ones being "Camera," "Location," and "Microphone."

So tap each of these permission categories individually, then go through the list on the following screen. If a certain app has access to this data when you don't want it to, simply disable it by tapping on the switch next to it.

6. Device Administrators

This next one focuses more on security than privacy, but it still works both ways. Android apps can get slightly elevated permissions by requesting "Device administrator" access, which is great for certain tweaks like ad-blockers, but can be seriously detrimental to your privacy in some cases.

You have to explicitly grant Device administrator access to apps, but just like with permissions, it's possible that you may have inadvertently enabled this feature, which can be potentially disastrous. Malware apps love to use the Device administrator feature to prevent you from uninstalling them, which means going to drastic measures to remove them.

To check for device administrator privileges, go to the Apps menu in Settings, then tap the menu button in the top-right corner and choose "Special access." From here, tap on "Device admin apps," then go through the list that appears and deselect any app you're suspicious of or don't remember granting Device administrator access to.

7. Apps That Can Appear on Top

Certain apps have the ability to apply overlays on top of the screen you're viewing. Examples include Facebook's Chatheads feature and screen filters that cancel out blue light. Less reputable apps, however, can use this feature to trick you. For instance, an app could draw a "Cancel" button over the "Install" button on an Android system prompt, fooling you into installing malware.

To check for apps that have this feature enabled, head to the Apps menu in Settings, then tap the menu button and select "Special access." From here, choose "Apps that can appear on top," and comb through the list carefully to make sure that only trusted apps have this feature are enabled.

8. Apps That Can Change System Settings

Productivity-focused apps usually use an Android permission to toggle system settings on or off. For example, a voice assistant uses this permission to turn your GPS off when you say "Turn off GPS." While an incredibly useful feature, having this permission granted for a wayward app can have devastating results.

Again, head to the Apps menu in Settings, then choose "Special access" from the overflow menu to check for this. This time, select "Apps that can change system settings," then go through the list and toggle the switches next to any apps that you feel should not have this permission.

9. Usage Data Access

In an effort to enhance your overall experience, some apps will ask for permission to view data about the way you interact with your phone. This can range from monitoring the types of apps you use and how often they're accessed, all the way to your cell carrier's name and language settings, to name a few. This can be a bit creepy if you hadn't already realized it.

To prevent apps from seeing this data, head to the Apps menu in Settings, then select "Special access" once again from the overflow menu. Tap on "Usage data access" after, then select each app in the list. After that, toggle the switch at the top of the screen to keep any apps from seeing your usage data.

10. Intelligent Scan

The Galaxy S9's Intelligent Scan feature now combines face and iris scanning to make for a more secure way to unlock your device. And while it's is a marked improvement over facial recognition alone, it sadly still trails behind the iPhone X's Face ID feature, making the good old fingerprint scanner still the best way in terms of biometrics to protect your S9.

To turn this feature off, head to the Lock screen and security menu in Settings, then select "Intelligent Scan" and enter your PIN to go to the next page. From there, tap on "Intelligent Scan unlock" to disable it. Once you're done, make sure to set up a fingerprint lock screen and PIN- or password-based fallback code from the same Lock screen and security menu.

11. Face Recognition & Iris Scanner

Besides Intelligent Scan, the S9 lets you use Face Recognition and Iris Scanner separately. Using these features on their own, however, makes your device less secure, as it increases the chances of unauthorized access due to spoofing with photos either of your face or your eyes.

Turning these features off can be done in the exact the same way as disabling Intelligent Scan. So head to the Lock screen and security menu in Settings and select either "Face Recognitions" or "Iris Scanner," enter your PIN, and tap on the switch next to their names to toggle the features off.

12. Smart Lock

The S9 and S9+ have fingerprint sensors that are now located in the center of their rear panels. Reaching for the device to unlock it via fingerprint on the rear can still be a hassle, however, so many of us have turned to "Smart Lock" to keep our phones unlocked whenever we're in a trusted location for overall convenience.

Unfortunately, using this feature can be detrimental to your security and privacy. Because your phone remains basically unlocked any time it's within range of your home or your smartwatch, the chances of unauthorized access increase significantly if you leave your phone unattended. Anyone can pick up your device and do some snooping if you leave your phone on your desk while in the bathroom.

Thankfully, this feature is easy enough to disable, and can be done by heading to the Lock screen and security menu in Settings, then tapping on "Smart Lock." From here, disable the "Trusted devices" setting by deleting any devices that you've paired with. You may also want to consider disabling "On-body detection," "Trusted places," and "Trusted voice" if you want to stay even more secure.

13. Unknown Sources

The vast majority of Android malware comes from random websites, so sideloading apps from websites outside the Google Play or Samsung App Stores can lead to potential disaster. Needles to say, it's highly recommended that you take extreme caution when installing APK files, as the "Unknown Sources feature no longer exists on the S9 and S9+.

To help keep your device safe from malware, we recommend downloading external apps through Chrome, as it requires you to confirm any downloads that through permission prompts, unlike Samsung Internet which just proceeds to download any file you tap on — intentionally or otherwise.

Additionally, some apps have the ability to install unknown apps that may potentially harm your device. To check for this, go to the Apps menu in Settings, choose "Special access" from the overflow menu, and tap on "Install Unknown Apps." Inspect which apps have this permission from there, and select any apps you want to deny access to by tapping on "Allow from this source."

14. Google Data Collection

As the brainchild of Google, the Android OS found in your S9 comes laden with Google-based features such as Google Assistant and Gmail, which gather data from your device that's then used to enhance your experience. If you find these features invasive, however, you can limit Google's data collection for account-based services in a few easy steps.

To start, go to the Google menu from within your S9's Settings, then select "Personal info & privacy." Once inside the "Personal info & privacy" page, scroll down until you find "Activity controls," then tap on it.

There are several privacy settings that you can adjust once inside "Activity controls." Disabling "Web & App Activity" prevents Google from collecting data about sites you visit from its search engine, along with apps that you use on your phone. Turning off "Device information" prevents Google from storing your contacts and calendar entries on the cloud.

"Voice & Audio Activity" is used to train the Google Assistant, and you can turn this feature off here as well. Beyond that, you can disable YouTube history and overall device location history to further enhance your privacy. Note that disabling these features may cause you to lose some functionality in Google apps.

15. Ads Personalization

Google at its heart is an advertising company, and they use information gathered from your Android to personalize ads to suit to your personal taste. Of course, this information is never shared with third parties, but if you feel uncomfortable with the tech giant knowing about your interests, you can disable it anytime. To do so, head to the Google menu in Settings, then select "Ads" and turn on the "Opt out of Ads Personalization" setting.

If want to go even further, you have the added option of resetting your advertising ID in this same menu. Online services use this ID to push relevant ads for you to view, so it's worth making a habit out of visiting this menu from time to time and tapping on the "Reset advertising ID" entry to flush out private data.

Disabling or changing any or all of the settings mentioned will greatly aid in keeping your S9 secure and private, and lead to less ad tracking and data collection by Google and others overall. On top of that, your phone itself should be more secure from curious individuals, along with outside threats.

Cover image and screenshots by Amboy Manalo/Gadget Hacks

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