How to check app permissions on Android and iOS

The apps you install on your devices might invade your privacy. Some apps may potentially run in the background to snoop on your location data via GPS. Others may access the contents of your camera roll or your contacts list. Some apps may use your microphone or camera or may harvest your IP address, or device-level information such as an IMEI, TAC, MAC address, or advertising ID.

Whether an app will collect this data from you depends on the permissions you accepted when you installed the app. The good news is that you can check app permissions quite easily. You can either revoke permissions – or opt to delete an app – if you feel it is overstepping its mark.

In this guide, we show you how to check app permissions on Android and iOS devices.

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How to check app permissions on Android

If you want to check or change the permissions for applications already installed on your Android device, follow the steps below. This guide will let you check the permissions and revoke them if you want to. If an app has permissions that you can't alter, you may need to delete the app altogether.

  1. On your Android device, open the Settings App.
  2. Tap Apps and notifications
  3. Tap the app you want to check or alter. (If you can't find it in the list, first tap See all apps or App info).
  4. Tap Permissions. If you previously allowed or denied any permissions for the app, you will find them listed here.
  5. To change a permission setting, tap on it, and then choose either Allow or Deny.

Alternatively, to automatically remove permissions for unused apps:

  1. Tap Apps and notifications > Permissions 
  2. Turn on Remove permissions if the app isn't used.

Remember that for location, camera, and microphone permissions, you may be able to choose from a variety of different options:

  1. All the time: This setting will permit the app to use the permission (usually to track your location) at any time, even when you’re not actively using the app.
  2. Only while using the app: The permission only applies when you're using that app.
  3. Ask every time: The app will ask your permission every time you open the app. If you agree, it can use the permission until you close the app. 
  4. Deny: This prevents the app from using the permission setting, even when you’re using the app.

Types of permissions on Android

It is important to be aware that the permissions available to apps may differ depending on the device you use.

Some phones and tablets have more sensors or features that may be available to apps. This can cause apps to request a wider variety of permissions. Below we have included a list of permissions and what they do:

  • Body sensors: Allows apps to get information about your bodily functions and vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, etc).
  • Calendar: Gives the app access to your default calendar.
  • Call logs: Allows the app to see and change your call history.
  • Camera: Permits the app to use your camera to take pictures or videos.
  • Contacts: Provides access to your contacts list.
  • Location: Provides access to your device's location.
  • Microphone: Allows the app to record audio.
  • Phone: Allows the app to make and manage phone calls.
  • Physical activity: Allows the app to get info about your activities (walking, cycling, step count, etc.)
  • SMS: Allows the app to see and send SMS (text) messages.
  • Storage: Allows the app to access your photos and any other files stored on your Android device.
  • Files and media: Provides access to photos, media, and other files stored on your phone.

How to check app permissions on iOS

Checking and altering app permissions on iOS devices is easy. Follow the steps below to update each type of permission on an iPhone or iPad.

  1. Open the Settings App
  2. Scroll down to Privacy and tap it
  3. Tap each entry on the right-hand side to see any apps that have previously been granted permissions. (You can alter permissions for Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Photos, Bluetooth, Local Network, Microphone, Speech Recognition, Camera, HomeKit, Media and Apple Music, Files and Folders, and Motion and Fitness.)
  4. Use the slider to either grant access or revoke each permission for each app it applies to

To update which apps have access to Location Services (or to switch off Location Services altogether):

  1. Open the Settings App
  2. Scroll down to Privacy and tap it
  3. Tap Location Services
  4. Either turn off Location Services altogether using the slider, or check each app individually to select either Never, Ask next time, or While using the app.

Cellular Data

Besides the privacy settings and permissions above, you can opt to either provide or withhold access to cellular data on an iPhone. This will prevent apps from using up your internet allowance by running in the background.

  1. Open the Settings App
  2. Tap on Cellular in the left-hand menu
  3. Scroll down to the list of apps
  4. Disable cellular data access for specific apps

Notifications

On iOS apps must also ask permission to give you push notifications. To check which apps can send you push notifications and to revoke this permission from certain apps, follow the steps below:

  1. Open the Settings App
  2. Tap on Notifications in the left-hand menu
  3. Scroll down and choose how you wish to get notifications for each app using the slider. (You can either prevent notifications or select how you wish them to appear and whether they appear on your lock screen, for example)

Background App Refresh

Recent versions of iOS also permit apps to use the Background App Refresh feature. This allows those apps to do some work in the background but may cause your battery to go down faster. To prevent apps from working in the background:

  1. Open the Settings App
  2. Tap General in the left-hand menu
  3. Tap Background App Refresh
  4. Scroll down to the list of apps to decide which apps can refresh in the background. Alternatively, disable it for all apps by toggling the Background App Refresh option at the top.

Do I need to micro-manage app permissions?

The best way to ensure that apps aren't invading your privacy is to consider permissions when you install each app. If you don't want to accept certain permissions, either click Deny or refuse to install the app.

If you have only just realized that certain apps may be negatively affecting your privacy, it is a good idea to use the methods below to check which permissions have already been granted. This will allow you to improve the privacy you get on your device.

Once the permissions have been set how you prefer, you shouldn't need to check them again – as long as you always monitor them when installing apps. 

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Why do apps need permissions?

Some apps require permissions to provide their services. If you use a map application with a feature that shows you where you are in real-time, it is reasonable that the app will require access to your device's location data. 

Other apps allow you to share photos or make voice calls, these apps will require permission to access your saved images or your microphone – for you to be able to talk to your friends when you make a call.

The types of permissions mentioned above are generally reasonable because they are required to provide the app's services and features. However, it is important to always consider what an app does before accepting any permissions.

Some apps require permissions that are completely unnecessary to their primary function. Under these circumstances, those permissions are suspect and could easily be providing the app developer with the ability to invade your privacy. 

Is an app safe if it genuinely requires permissions?

It is important to note that just because an app requires certain permissions does not mean that it isn't also abusing them. 

Some apps, such as fitness apps, use location data to track your daily exercise routines. This allows you to see how far you have traveled while jogging or walking, for example.

In order to perform this service, the app genuinely requires access to your GPS settings. However, there is nothing to stop the app's developer from also using your location data to find out where you live, to figure out where you like to go and to potentially track you – even when you aren't exercising. 

This data could be compiled into a database about you and might even be shared with third parties or sold onto advertisers or data aggregators. So, how can you tell if it is safe to accept app permissions? 

First and foremost, it is important to consider the data ethics and trustworthiness of an app's developer. Checking online to see whether the app is reputable is a good start. Forums like Reddit and Quora can usually provide some details about an app – particularly if it is known to be invasive.

The best way to determine what is happening with your data is to check the app's privacy policy. A privacy policy will explain whether the app only uses permissions to provide its services–or whether it is also harvesting your data for its own greedy purposes.