How to Keep Your Personal Stuff Private when Lending Your Phone to a Friend

BY GreenBot Staff

Published 3 Oct 2014

It’s easy to keep your data private on an Android phone when it’s always in your hand. Just encrypt your device with a strong password; no one’s getting your stuff. What about when you actually want a friend or acquaintance to see something on your phone? You could be handing them all your private data. So should you hover over their shoulder, waiting to snatch the phone away? Nah, that’s rude. You can use a few apps and file system tricks to keep your private stuff private.

Showing Off Your Photos

When someone shows you a photo on their phone. There’s always a temptation to swipe around and look at a few more. Don’t lie; you know you want to. This is probably one of the most common reasons you hand your phone to someone else. To gently remind people to keep their noses out of your business, there’s a great app called Focus.

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Keep people focused on the photos you want them to see, not poking around in the Gallery.

With Focus, you select one or more photos from your Gallery app. And use the share menu to share them with the Focus app. This locks the device into viewing only those images. Leaving the screen will ask for a Pin Number code; presumably, only you will know. There’s even an option to beep if someone tries to leave Focus without telling you. But that’s if you’re particularly distrustful of your friends. The free version of Focus has ads, but the full version is only $1.
Android Gallery apps also obey the hidden folder rules. Which is another way to obfuscate images you don’t want everyone to see. Use a file manager to change the name of the folder you want to hide. Add a period to the beginning of the name; the Gallery won’t display it by default.

All Your Other Files

Let’s say you’ve got some private files on your device. You don’t want showing up in the gallery or other apps. Whatever those might be, I’m not here to judge. You can hide them from all apps on the device. By creating a new file and putting it in the right place.

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A .nomedia file is like a cloaking device for the Android file system.

To do this, you need a file browser like Sliding Explorer or Solid Explorer. Find the folder where the photos in question are, and add a new file with the file manager. When asked for the name, input .nomedia accept. This blank file acts as a flag to the Android file indexer to skip the folder. So nothing contained therein will appear in other apps or searches. The only way to access the files is to use the file browser to navigate them manually. If you don’t know where the files are, they might as well be invisible. This goes a step past making a folder hidden by adding a period to the start of the folder name.

This is a handy trick, even if you’re not hiding personal things. If an app clutches up your gallery with its image assets. Drop a .nomedia file in its folder, and other apps will stop indexing it. The same goes for audio and video files in your multimedia apps. Developers aren’t always cautious enough with the files they leave on a device, but it’s an easy fix.

Some apps claim to be file lockers that will store your files securely. Many of these Play Store apps are just doing the .nomedia trick for you. Some offer a way to encrypt your files and store them in a private directory. This may be overkill if you only want to keep people away from sensitive files. When you allow them to use your phone. Use these at your own risk. Your files could become corrupted or locked forever if something goes wrong with the app.

Apps

Maybe you have that friend who likes to post embarrassing Facebook updates on other people’s profiles. You can stymie this social assault the next time they have your phone clutched in their mischievous claw. You can lock down any app you want to keep secure with an app like Smart App Locker.

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Keep people from nosing around in your important apps.

Various apps accomplish the same task, but Smart App Locker is well-supported and highly praised by users. With Smart App Locker, you can choose sensitive apps like Facebook, Gallery, Twitter, and banking apps. And put them behind a passcode. This app supports Numbers or pattern locks. A sneaky mode makes the password entry screen look like a force close dialog.
The best way to keep people out of your stuff is never to let them touch your phone. But that’s not terribly nice or practical. All it takes is a few tweaks to avoid undue embarrassment.