App permissions are one of the most controversial and confusing parts of the Android app world.
For security reasons many functions and data within Android are restricted, and inaccessible to apps. If an app requires access to one of these functions – such as the ability to access the internet over a 3G connection, or use the GPS hardware – it needs to explicitly request permission.
When you download an app you’re presented with a list of all the permissions the app is requesting so you know exactly what you’re getting.
It’s a simple idea, but in practice doesn’t quite work. In many instances the permissions requested are quite straightforward – a satnav needs to be able to use GPS, for example – but often they’re not, such as when a game asks for permission to access your contacts app.
Permissions can also be quite obscure, it’s not always clear what all of them actually do, and to compound the problem further you get no control over them. You cannot download an app without accepting its permission requests.
But if you’ve got a rooted phone you can wrestle back some control over what your apps get up to. With the free LBE Privacy Guard app you can allow or deny specific permissions on a case by case basis, preventing apps from snooping around your data or tracking your location without your knowledge.
Note that you can stop an app from working if you deny the wrong permission, so tread lightly with your changes, although they can all be undone easily enough.
Choose the Permission Manager
Download and launch LBE Privacy Guard. You’ll see that the app also includes a Firewall feature that enables you to control which apps are accessing the internet. For the purposes of this tutorial, though, we’ll be using the Permission Manager screen, so select that.
Privacy and money
The main Permission screen focusses on the key permissions surrounding the privacy of your data (such as those that can read your text messages or track your position), and the ones that can cost your money (such as those that can make calls).
Tap on one of the permissions to see which of your apps are requesting it. By default the apps you’ve installed have an ‘i’ icon next to them, meaning you will be prompted each time the app uses the permission. System apps are listed as Trusted apps, and it’s a good idea to leave these as they are.
Granting and revoking permission
Pick an app from the list and a new menu will appear with the options Allow, Prompt and Deny. For something like a Weather app, which needs to know you location, you can choose Allow; for the others you should leave them on Prompt for the time being.
Viewing all your apps
Hit the Back button and then select the Apps tab. You’ll now see a list of all the apps on your phone and the permissions they ask for. Tap on an app to see those permissions. If you trust the app you can tick the trust box and it will no longer be monitored by LBE Privacy Guard.
Block internet access
If you’ve got an app you don’t want to go online, or one which uses a lot of data that you only want to use on a Wi-Fi network, untick either the Mobile Network option or both to restrict the app’s online capabilities.
Now exit LBE Privacy Guard and launch one of your other apps. As soon as it requests access to one of your restricted permissions a dialog box will appear on screen. Tap to allow or deny the permission, and tick the box to remember your answer for that app in future.
Notifications and alerts
LBE also makes use of the notifications pane on your phone, putting less important but still notable events in the pane for you to view. These will appear whenever certain permissions are used, and show you what an app is up to.
Take control of your apps
Back in Permission Manager within LBE click on the Event Log tab to see a long list of some of the things your apps have been doing. Now you can check whether apps are taking liberties with your phone’s data – tap and hold on an entry to always allow or deny that permission for the app.
Installing a new app
With LBE Privacy Guard now fully up and running and configured it will happily continue running in the background monitoring your phone. The next time you install an app a notification will appear prompting you to review and set t he permissions for the app.