Losing your phone can be a very devastating experience. Your photos, videos, contacts and private data are all gone. There is always a chance that you could lose them forever. And then there is also the possibility of the phone ending up in the wrong hands.
Losing access to valuable files could be very crippling. Your private data in the wrong hands could be a nightmare. So how can you prevent this as much as possible? Here are some practical ways to lessen the impact of losing your Android smartphone.
Back up your data
Losing your phone means losing your data, but it shouldn’t be that way. Proactively backing up your data is the logical first step in preparing for possible data loss. Unfortunately, keeping a backup of all your data is not as easy as it seems. Most popular Android backup apps have a lot of holes.
It’s either a privacy issue, backup frequency, how much data you can back up, or what kind of data you can back up. An ideal backup solution should be able to back up not only your media files and documents, but also your app data, settings, and anything else that can help you maintain your previous mobile experience.
The first backup option to consider is Android’s built-in backup feature. Some of these options may look slightly different depending on the version of Android you are using. To access the feature:
- Open your settings app, scroll down and tap Google > Backup.
- Enable Backup to Google Drive.
- Scroll down and tap Google Photos then activate Backup and sync.
- Scroll down and tap Back up device folders.
- In the next menu, activate all the image folders you need to back up.
If you’ve followed the steps above, you’ve probably set up a phone-wide backup. This should cover your settings, photos, videos, SMS, wallpapers, call logs, device preferences, and app data for selected apps.
Although the coverage is quite broad, your documents, some media files, and data from some apps may be missed. To cover failures, Google offers a unified backup solution called Google One. With the Google One app, you can manage files backed up to your Google Photos, Google Drive, and Android’s built-in backup system from a single interface.
If you ever turn off the backup feature on your Android settings app or if you don’t use your Android phone for two months, all your backed up phone data (except images stored in Google Photos) will be permanently deleted.
If you are using a Samsung phone, here is a detailed guide on how to backup your data on Samsung.
Protect your data on your phone
Once your phone is no longer in your possession, your data is at risk. If you have confidential documents or media files that you wouldn’t want to see in the public domain, it’s important to make sure no one can access them if you ever lose your phone.
A popular option is to use a “vault” app that can secure your sensitive files with a pin. You will find dozens of them on the Play Store. Unfortunately, most of them only hide your files rather than protecting them with encryption or other means.
Fortunately, the Files by Google app is a reliable option for protecting your files. The app comes with a secure folder feature. The feature stores files in an encrypted folder that can only be accessed through the app after providing a PIN code. Recent versions of Android come with the app, but you can also find it on the Play Store if you don’t have it pre-installed.
To configure and secure your files:
- In Files by Google, select Browse.
- Go to collections and press Secure Folder.
- In the Choose a lock screen, choose PIN or Model and press Following.
- On the Confirm PIN or Confirm model screen, re-enter your PIN or pattern and tap Following.
- On the next screen, tap I get it.
To secure your files using the Files by Google app:
- Select any file (or files) from anywhere in the Files by Google app.
- Tap the three dots in the top right corner of the app screen.
- Faucet Move to Secure Folder.
Until the person who owns your phone has your PIN or pattern, your files cannot be accessed. Realistically, not all of your files are likely to be kept in the Secure Folder. This means that all other files could be vulnerable.
Android’s built-in Find My Device feature promises to wipe your phone’s data remotely if your phone falls into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, it comes with a lot of limitations. To erase your data, your phone must be:
- Connected to mobile data or Wi-Fi
- Be visible on Google Play
- Be signed in to your Google account
- Have Find My Device enabled
While this is fine for a phone you’ve misplaced, it’s unlikely to work for a stolen device. Anyone serious about manipulating your data will ensure that these conditions are not met. So what’s the fix for this?
How to self-destruct your files using MacroDroid
You can find apps that “self-destruct” your files on the Play Store. Unfortunately, many of them are riddled with bugs and compatibility issues due to ever-changing Android OS permissions and security restrictions.
However, if you wish, you can implement an effective workaround using MacroDroid, one of the most trusted automation apps for Android.
To download: MacroDroid (Free, subscription available)
Here’s a guide to creating a self-destruct automation routine on your Android device using MacroDroid:
- Launch the MacroDroid app and tap Add macro.
- On the next screen, type “Self-Destruct” in the input box labeled Enter the macro name.
- Tap the plus icon on the panel titled Triggers.
- Go to Application > Application launched/closed > Application launched > OK > Select application(s) > OK.
- A list of all your installed apps should appear. Select all file manager apps or any app that can open the files you want to destroy if your phone is compromised.
- Return to the home screen and tap the plus icon on the Stock sign.
- Go to Files > File Operation > Delete > OK.
- Your Android phone directory should appear, navigate to the folder containing the files you wish to destroy. Faucet Use this folder.
- Select the type of files you want to delete in the folder and press OKAY.
Here’s what we’ve done so far:
- We programmed a trigger (i.e. when a user opens a file manager application).
- We’ve defined an action to take once the trigger fires (which deletes all target files).
However, it would not be safe to delete the target files every time a file manager application is opened. The trigger and action should only be valid when the scenario matches the action of an intruder. MacroDroid gives you a lot of leeway to define this “intruder profile”. You can do this in the constraints section.
To add a constraint:
- Tap the plus icon on the Constraint sign.
- Go to Location > Geofence (location) > Outdoor area.
- Faucet Select Area then the plus icon at the bottom of the page.
- Tap the circular navigation icon in the upper right corner of the screen to lock your current location.
- Enter a zone name (eg Safe Zone) then adjust the radius to around 500m.
- Tap the tick icon to save.
- On the next screen, tap the back button in the top left corner of the screen and tap Save.
- On the home screen, turn on the switch in the upper right corner of the screen to activate MacroDroid.
Remember to enable all required permissions and give MacroDroid access to accessibility features through the Android settings app.
With the MacroDroid profile you created, if someone tries to access one of your file management apps when the device is outside of the geographic area designated as the safe zone, all files on your target folder are automatically deleted.
Of course, MacroDroid gives you a lot of leeway. You can choose to use a different set of constraints or triggers depending on the conditions under which you want your files to self-destruct.
Take proactive steps to protect your data
A lot of things can go wrong if you lose your data or it falls into the wrong hands. The steps we’ve outlined above enable you to proactively put measures in place to recover your data, protect your data, or, if necessary, destroy your data if it falls into the wrong hands.
No matter what, it’s important to make sure your data is backed up, so you can always access and restore it when needed.
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