Activity Recognition is a feature built into Android OS that lets the device detect the user’s physical activities like standing, reclining, walking, riding a bicycle, or even driving a car. This can be a very useful feature. The problem is that the user has no control over this feature.
The official twitter handle of DuckDuckGo, the search engine that does not track user activity, has shared a bit about this:
“There’s a new Android permission in town, that shares with apps whether you’re walking, driving, sitting, etc. It’s called “Activity Recognition” and you can find it in an app’s permissions page, in the “Other” category, but it can’t be disabled.”
How To Turn Off Activity recognition
You can’t turn it off, sorry. DuckDuckGo says what you can do is find out which apps are using it, and uninstall them if you don’t want to share your activity info. Sigh. I can imagine that there will be apps your phone that you really need but don’t want to share your activity info with.
Plus, this stop-gap solution means that you have to manually go to the Permissions screen of every app on your Android smartphone to check and act, one after the other. That is painful labour.
This is why some of us say that permissions should be within the control of users. There should be a built-in mechanism to turn off activity recognition when it is not needed by the user.
This post mentions a few apps that use activity recognition. They include Shazam and SoundHound. Both of them are favourites of mine. I am left wondering why these apps would need to know when I am sitting, standing or reclining. Perhaps to know when I am dancing? And then do what with it? Why can I not disable the feature?
Imagine not being able to turn off Location on your phone. It is a useful feature, but you shouldn’t have it on at all times. Speaking of which, Activity Recognition works with Google Location Services, so by all means turn off Location on your device when you are not using it.
Is Any Smartphone OS Safe?
Of the modern ones – Android and iOS – not 100%. We sold out on user privacy ages ago, and it will only get worse. So, as long as you choose to use these things, brace up. The data privacy issues on smartphones get messier and messier by the day. In order to enjoy more convenience, we give up more info.
The alternative is to switch to a feature phone, or stick with much older operating systems like Windows Phone OS, BlackBerry OS, and Symbian OS (if you can find any such smartphone to buy in 2017).
One thing is sure: there seems to be a valid market for a less invasive smartphone operating system. Of course, the greatest challenge such an OS will face is apps. But as most apps have web and mobile web versions, perhaps people who want more privacy should be ready to ignore apps and embrace the web some more.
That is how I use my Lumia 950 where Windows Phone apps are not available for specific services that I need to use. And if you use the web for search regularly and do not want to be tracked, you can replace Google with DuckDuckGo.com. They respect your privacy and do not track your user activity. That is my default search engine now on all my devices.