Bayanda Mzoneli

About Bayanda Mzoneli

Bayanda Mzoneli is a public servant. He writes in his personal capacity.

For new readers, besides the 17 regular readers of this blog, this post is a sequel to the post about the same matter I wrote 6 years ago. The previous post highlighted the importance of third-privacy as the major reason to avoid security breaches on one’s phone.

This sequel serves as a rough guide to securing your phone to protect the privacy of third parties, including, but not limited to, nudes, and similarly sensitive content, taken, or shared with you. If people trust you with their sensitive content you have a duty to protect them from leaks and embarrassment.

Let us begin inside the phone, and work outwards.

Most of the visual content you receive or record will be stored in your phone gallery. We will start by securing that.

Since it’s 2020, I will assume you have a Google/Gmail account. If you have been in a comma for the past 15 years, you can go create one, then come back here.

You need to install Google Photos (Dropbox and iCloud have too little storage space before a user is required to pay). iPhone users can click here to install Google Photos and users of other smart phones can click here.

Once Google Photos is installed, you can open it, and log in with your Gmail details. Once logged in, you should setup the app to back up your gallery. The important feature on Google Photos is “Free up space.” What this feature does is that it deletes photos and videos from you gallery, once they are backed up. You have to open the app and click “Free up space” at least once a day or once a week, depending how frequently you receive/create content you want to keep safe. The deleted photos can be accessed anytime on Google Photos.

The downside of using Google Photos is that it uses up a lot of data. Backing up, is the process where Google Photos uses your data bundles/wifi to upload the photos and videos from your phone gallery to your Google account online. This consumes data. And when you want to access the content again, it uses data to download/stream it to your phone.

Now this means your phone gallery will mostly be empty, in case someone goes through it or swaps left/right when you show them a photo.

Of course, an investigative partner can always open the Google Photos app and find your special collection. You do not want that. If you use other smartphones, excluding an iPhone, there is way you can lock Google Photos.

If you use an iPhone, you can skip this paragraph and the next four paragraphs. The app explained here is not available on iPhone, and there is no reliable equivalent, as far as I know. If you find one, please let me know.

The other smartphone users should click here to install AppLock. This app, as the name says, will lock your apps. The nice thing about it is that it lets you select which apps to lock. You would want to start by locking Google Photos, then lock SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and any other app that you would not want someone who using your phone to access. To unlock the app, you will need a lock code, pattern or fingerprint. It is ideal to set the lock code/pattern for AppLock to be different from the one of your phone.

As you can imagine, it would be annoying to enter a lock code every time you switch from WhatsApp to Facebook. The beauty of AppLock is that it can be turned off easily and turned on easily. So you can turn it on, manually, once you get home (mine is setup to auto-lock itself when it detects the home wifi), and it turns itself off when the home wifi goes off (including from load shedding). I respect privacy of third parties, especially since I receive WhatsApps of desperate students struggling with financial exclusion. You can turn it off when you are not around people who might take interest in the contents of your phone.

AppLock also has a timed-based lock. Mine is setup to auto-lock itself at 21:00, because that is my bedtime. But it is also set to auto-lock at 22:00 and at 23:00, just in case I keep switching off the auto-lock due to having a late night. It is set to auto-unlock at 08:00.

There are 2 downsides of AppLock worth disclosing. The firs is that because it runs in the background the entire time, it uses up phone memory, which might slow down smaller smartphones. The second is that running in the background all the time also mean it uses some of the battery energy, but the difference is small.

Welcome back iPhone users. That is enough locking on the inside, now we get outside.

Almost all phones have the capability of requiring a lock code/pattern to be unlocked. More advanced ones have face recognition or fingerprint scan. Obviously you have to set this up to lock your phone. To be safe, make sure that the phone is set to lock itself after the shortest time of inactivity, in most phones the minimum is 60 seconds.

You do not want to send a text and get into the shower before the 60 seconds is over, because someone can get access at the 53rd second before the phone locks. If possible, if you are stepping away from the phone, like leaving it on the charger, briefly press the power button which usually locks the phone immediately on most phones.

The lock codes are really safe, they can hardly be cracked.

The Google accounts are really secure, they can hardly be cracked. But to be even safer, I advise that you turn on 2-step authentication for your Google Account, you can follow the steps outlined on this link.

Now, almost all your content is very secure. It cannot leak.

However, for those who do not use an iPhone, your phone gallery might be storing some of your content on a memory card that you added to the phone. What this means is that if your phone was stolen/lost before you could back up to Google Photos and delete from the gallery, someone who takes out your memory card can gain access to your photos and videos.

If the person who steals your phone grabs it and runs like in the videos from Sandton shared by @Abramjee on Twitter, then there is no way to prevent the leak from happening. However, if you are robbed at knife/gun point, you can pull the Sena Manoeuvre.

I coined it the Sena Manoeuvre after I heard the story of how my cousin, Senamile Mdlalose, cheated thieves who wanted to take her phone at knife point on Point Road (now Mahatma Gandhi Rd) in Durban over 14 years ago. She simple smashed the phone on the pavement.

As you can see this is a risky manoeuvre, especially if it were at gun point. But you can weigh the risk between the last time you backed up your content and the likelihood of the thief slitting your throat or shooting you. The safest think to do is to backup your content as frequently as possible, and let Google Photos “Free up space.”

Besides protecting third-party privacy, backup your photos and videos helps save storage space on your phone. It also protects your content from getting lost. If you change phones, you can have instant access to all your photos that are backed up on Google Photos. It is convenient way to store memories.

If you are using a smartphone, excluding iPhones, Google Photos lets you choose which folders to backup, this way you can avoid backing up WhatsApp images you received, which would mostly be full of memes and other content you have no interesting of adding to your collection.

Is this too much effort? Of course, it is. As explained in the previous article, third parties trust you with their information, with which they might not necessarily trust your partner with, be it about their physical health, work problems, relationships challenges, family difficulties, or nudes. You have a duty to maintain their confidentiality, and that takes effort. But by the 8th month, it would be second nature and not count as effort.

If you still think it’s too much effort, I know a friend you can send your content too, and they can store it for you, safely and securely, at no cost to you.

Obviously the best way to prevent leaks would be not to create/share the content in the first place, but also car accidents can be avoided by not getting on the road ever.

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