Most of you come to Mr. Phone for our in-depth reviews and comparisons. However, despite these long, detailed articles there is one aspect of phones that we don’t talk too much about – privacy and security.
Why? Because Privacy, you see, is a boring conversation for a major chunk of the millennials. I’m sure you’d rather spend time posting on Instagram, Facebook, or Tik Tok, for all I know. But, that’s precisely why you should be taking this more seriously! Because your personal videos on Tik Tok can be used for promotional purposes without your permission. Don’t believe me? Let my friend Cody Ko tell you…
Thanks, Cody. So, let’s get on with this story where I tell you why an iPhone is better than Android thanks to its strong focus on security and privacy-related features. And since this is a serious article, it requires a bright yellow iPhone XR to capture your attention!
iPhone vs Android: app permissions
Since we started off by talking about how everything you post on your favourite social media app is the company’s property, let’s talk about how these two different systems handle app permissions.
Okay, let’s take a look at how both these ecosystems handle giving Location access to the same app – Google Maps. Thankfully, you can switch off location access – for every single application and service – from the Privacy settings on both iOS and Android with the simple switch of a button. Coming back to Google Maps, you will notice that Apple gives you three levels of Location access – always on, never, and only while the app is in use. You don’t have the granular setting on Android. But it looks like Android Q is fixing that problem as per XDA’s new leak, so that’s definitely a good thing.
That said, an Associated Press exclusive story recently stated that “Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.”
The article explains: “Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking. For example, Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you merely open its Maps app. Automatic daily weather updates on Android phones pinpoint roughly where you are.”
Don’t believe me? Well, turn off location access on your phone entirely for a month. Check your location data at the end of the month from your Google account webpage.
One word of advice: read all the permission requests when an app asks for it. Don’t ignore it. There are a few games that ask for access to contacts. Pray, tell me why would you want to give a game that access?
iPhone vs Android: app stores
Okay moving on from app permissions to the very stores where you can download these apps from. On an iPhone, you use the App Store, and on Android, it is the Play Store where you can find…malicious apps. To prove that fact, Google removed close to 7,00,000 malicious apps from the Play Store in 2017.
Malware apps are more prevalent on Android because Google doesn’t have a stringent vetting process. If you have to add an app to the App Store, Apple has very strict controls. Moreover, developers have to go through Apple’s stringent checklist before making apps. It is not the same on Android. Which is why the quality control is not great on Android.
Since Android is an open-source platform, it is more vulnerable to cyber attacks. Yes, an open source platform gives you more freedom in terms of root access and access to different App Stores even. You are sacrificing your privacy and security for freedom.
But yes, Google has been actively working on improving the security of its Android platform. For example, by introducing Play Protect Google does check apps for malicious content every time you install an app. It works like homegrown antivirus software. That said, there are still cases of malicious apps entering the store every now and then.
The next time you see a dubious looking clone app of your favourite game on Android – don’t download it. That’s just common sense.
iPhone vs Android: differential privacy
Differential Privacy is a concept that is vital as far as collecting user data for enhancing user services is concerned. For example, Apple collects your Emoji usage to serve you the most used emojis on your keyboard. But it does so without actually collecting your IP address or your device ID.
How does it do that? Using Differential Privacy. In fact, Google was the first to use its own version of Differential Privacy called RAPPOR or Randomized Aggregatable Privacy-Preserving Ordinal Response. This helps it collect user data without affecting their privacy.
It is a complex concept to explain but an article on The Conversation does a good job of it. The article explains:
“Say you wanted to show the most popular routes people take walking through a park. You track the routes of 100 people who regularly walk through the park, and whether they walk on the path or through the grass. But instead of sharing the specific people taking each route, you share the aggregate data collected over time. People viewing your results might know that 60 out of 100 people prefer to take a short-cut through the grass, but not which 60 people.”
Essentially, Google and Apple collect your data to create tailor-made experiences on your phone but this data is collected without actually knowing your devices’ identity. This is the only area where both the operating systems are almost on par.
iPhone vs Android: data sharing
“What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone.” Yup, recently this tongue-in-cheek ad was plastered all across Las Vegas during CES. Yes, Apple’s marketing was in full swing but there is no doubt in my mind that Apple cares about user privacy. Why else would Tim Cook categorically go out against other tech biggies flouting user privacy willy nilly? Apple’s CEO wrote in an op-ed in Time Magazine, “it is time to stand up for the right to privacy in 2019.”
Remember when Apple categorically refused to give unlock the iPhone for FBI? The company is hell-bent on protecting the data security of its consumers. And closer home, when the UIDAI helpline number crept into your Android devices there was a major outcry in our country. Guess what? Apple iPhones that weren’t logged in with a Google account didn’t add the number without your consent. Don’t you want that peace of mind when using a phone?
iPhone vs Android: software security update
To talk about security updates on these operating systems allow me to point you to a tweet from SecurityLab which clearly states that the iPhone offers better security updates compared to Android phones. In fact, the numbers are appalling for many Android brands – including Samsung and OnePlus.
Smartphone security update availability report (February 2018)
Smartphone comparison : Android, iOS, PrivatOS, Windows.#Google #Apple #WindowsPhone #Samsung #Blackphone #FairPhone #Malware #MobileSecurity pic.twitter.com/EzFEP0GWKE
— Mobile&SecurityLab (@SecX13) February 26, 2018
Yes, Google has been sending out regular security patches but it varies from brand to brand when the update reaches your phone. It gets especially worse if your phone doesn’t support Project Treble. With support for Project Treble, which was introduced with Android Oreo, Google’s job becomes easier to push updates security and otherwise.
On iOS, updates reach you on time and iOS 12 works on even the iPhone 5s – which was launched more than 5 years ago. Isn’t that something? On the Android side of things, Motorola just recently started updating its 3-year old Moto G4 Plus with Android Oreo, which is not even the latest software.
Now, why I am making a big fuss about the software update? Simple. Regular software updates to your smartphone ensure that your phone isn’t affected by breaches, hacks, and/or phishing attacks. Why do you think Google works on a monthly security patch for Android? You think more smartphone brands using Android OS would take this seriously, but they really don’t. One of the reasons for that is Android phone manufacturers keep making newer phones and bombarding the market with options. It is difficult for these brands to actually provide regular updates to all their phones and across different regions.
iPhone vs Android: conclusion
To end, I just want to put a couple of things into perspective:
- The high price you pay for an iPhone also means that you are looking at a more secure platform.
- The freedom offered by an Android phone is inversely proportional to how secure the phone actually is.
I am not saying that the iPhone is entirely secure and that there have been no attacks on the iOS but it is just tougher for hackers to exploit iOS. And for an OS that has been built ground up with security as its core – iOS makes a strong case for itself. For validation, read this massive 95-page document.
So, as an Android user at least ensure that you don’t bypass regular updates and that your security patches are up to date. Or better yet, buy a phone with Stock Android. Pixel and Nokia are your best bets at the moment if you take your security and privacy seriously.
What do you guys think? Go, hit the comments. I want this to be a civil discussion. No name calling.