Ever since Android 6.0 Marshmallow launched, Android has granted users control over app permissions, dictating what our apps can and cannot do. This level of control seems more important now than ever so let’s dive into what app permissions do and how to use them.
As the name suggests, app permissions govern what your app is allowed to do and access. This ranges from access to data stored on your phone, like contacts and media files, through to pieces of hardware like your handset’s camera or microphone. Granting permission allows the app to use the feature. Denying access prevents it from doing so.
Applications cannot automatically grant themselves permissions, they have to be confirmed by the user. Apps will ask you to accept each of their permissions the first time you launch them via a popup that asks you to “allow” or “deny” each request.
Well maintained modern apps will continue to function if you deny it a permission, although some features obviously won’t work. Often if you try to use a feature requiring a previously denied permission, you’ll see the permission popup appear again. There’s often no problems with denying app permissions you feel uncomfortable with, they always be changed later.
Older apps that haven’t been updated might crash or fail to work correctly if you deny some permissions.
Most of Android’s app permissions are self-explanatory, but here’s a breakdown of what each one actually means.
App permissions explained
- Body Sensors – allows access to your health data and step count, from paired heart-rate monitors, fitness trackers, and other sensors.
- Calendar – allows apps to read, create, edit, or delete your calendar events.
- Camera – taking photos and recording video.
- Contacts – read, create, or edit your contact list, as well as access the list of all accounts used on your device.
- Location – access your location using GPS for high accuracy, and cellular data and Wi-Fi for approximate accuracy.
- Microphone – used for recording audio, including for video.
- Phone – access your phone number and network info. Required for making calls and VoIP, voicemail, call redirect, and editing call logs.
- SMS – read, receive, and send MMS and SMS messages.
- Storage – read and write files to your phone’s internal and external storage.
Adjusting app permissions
An App will always ask you to confirm its permissions the first time you run it, but you can always go back and readjust app permissions after installation by digging through your phone’s settings menu. There are two ways to view app permissions, either by sorting apps by permissions or by viewing each app individually.
The first place to start for either method is to head to the Apps & notifications page in the Android Settings menu.
Toggle permissions by app
If you want to see the permissions that you’ve enabled for a specific app, then head into the Apps section of the Apps & notifications. Select your desired app and scroll down until you find the option labeled Permissions.
This option will present you with a quick overview of the permissions that you’ve already granted the app (see the image above). Clicking on the option will display a list of all the possible permissions that the app has requested along with which ones you’ve allowed or denied. Clicking the toggle will allow or deny the associated permission, allowing you to make changes to apps without reinstalling them.
Toggle permissions by type
If you prefer an overview of all the apps granted a certain permission, such as those that can record from your microphone for example, then you can sort apps by this criteria too.
Head to the Apps & notifications menu in settings, and find the Permissions option. If this isn’t displayed on the main menu, it might be tucked away in the hamburger icon in the top right. From here, you can browse through all of the available permissions on your phone, as well as a quick overview of how many apps have been granted each permission.
Clicking on any of the permissions will display just the apps that have requested this particular feature. You can make changes here too, by using the toggles in this menu to allow or deny access for individual apps (see the image below).
Which permissions to allow and deny?
Denying permissions to dodgy apps is one of the best ways to keep your phone and data safe from malicious applications. The go-to case study is the plague of flashlight apps that requested contact data, microphone access, and often even more just to toggle a light on and off. No doubt many of these apps were requesting access for data collection purposes and perhaps worse.
Broadly speaking, reputable app developers usually only request the permissions their application requires, but this isn’t a green light to allow anything a popular app requests. You might not want to use certain features tied to data extraction, either for diagnostic or advertising purposes.
Generally, consider whether the requested permission is appropriate for the given app and be wary of those that don’t seem to make sense. Messaging apps will certainly need your contacts, SMS, and probably camera and microphone too for video calls. They probably don’t need your health information.
Remember, you can always check out all the permissions an app requests before you install it by checking out the description in the Google Play Store. A good app developer will always divulge what each permission is needed for too, which can help with peace of mind.