Smartphone security starts with the lock screen. Here’s how to protect it.
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This story has been updated. It was originally published on July 15, 2020.
Your phone’s lock screen can reveal more personal information than you think. Sure it generally blocks access to your banking apps, email accounts, and social media profiles, but Google and Apple have made it so you can still access some of your phone’s main features without knowing the password.
Adjusting those lock screen settings is relatively simple on both iOS and Android, but balance is key. As important as it is to create a barrier between the outside world and the personal information on your phone, having some shortcuts on the lock screen is convenient, and it’s a good place to leave clues about who you are in case you lose your device.
Lock screen settings for iOS
By default, Apple lets you launch its smart assistant straight from the lock screen with a “Hey Siri” command. That’s fine if you want to check the weather or look something up on Wikipedia without unlocking your phone, but it won’t answer most personal questions about messages, emails, and other private stuff until you’ve passed through security.
There is, however, an exception.
You (or anyone else) can ask Siri, “What’s my name?” and the locked phone will show its owner’s name. Presumably, Apple leaves this option open so if someone picks up your phone, they can try to get it back to you. If you’d prefer to protect this information and stop Siri from answering any questions at all until the phone is unlocked, head to the Siri & Search menu in Settings and toggle off the switch by Allow Siri When Locked.
Even without Siri, you can give strangers who find your phone a chance to return it. Head to the Health app that comes as part of iOS, tap your user avatar (top right), then Medical ID, and Edit. There, you can choose someone in your address book as an emergency contact and add some information about yourself (like your allergies and age). To make this available on the lock screen to other people in an emergency, make sure the Show When Locked option at the bottom is set to Enabled.
[Related: Here’s your checklist for maximum smartphone security]
Anyone can launch a phone’s camera from the lock screen, too, with just a swipe to the left. It’s not possible to go back through old photos, but someone could take new pictures. The only way to prevent this is to disable the camera completely, via Screen Time in Settings: Tap Content & Privacy Restrictions, then turn the toggle switch on and disable the camera from the Allowed Apps list. Doing so, however, means you won’t be able to use the camera at all until you enable it again, so it’s not a great solution.
There are a few more settings to be aware of, which you’ll find under the Face ID & Passcode (or Touch ID & Passcode) menu in Settings. From there you can enable or disable lock screen access to the Today View (which includes news summaries and weather reports), notifications, Siri, Apple Wallet, smart home control, and the Reply with Message and Return Missed Calls features. Those last two are particularly important, as enabling them could let anyone instantly reply to a message or call someone back without unlocking your iPhone.
Lock screen settings for Android
The options are pretty similar over on Google-powered phones, but with so many versions of Android around, it’s not as easy to provide definitive instructions. The following tips apply to the latest stock version of Android 12, and if you have something different, you should be able to adapt them to your own phone without too much trouble.
By default, the Android lock screen doesn’t let you access any kind of private information unless it’s on your emergency information card (more on that later). While you can launch the Google Assistant, it won’t provide any answers until you unlock your phone with a PIN code, fingerprint, face scan, or whatever other method you’ve set up. Android will let you get past your lock screen with voice alone, but it must be your voice. To enable this ability, go to Apps in Settings and tap Assistant, Say “Hey Google,” and Hey Google to set up voice match.
You can launch the camera from the lock screen without any verification by simply double-pressing the power button, though, as with iOS, you won’t be able to enter the photo and video library. To make sure quick camera access is enabled, go to System, Gestures, and Quickly open camera from the settings page.
One way you can tweak your lock screen privacy is by limiting how much information notifications show before you unlock your phone. If you don’t want anyone to see potentially revealing details, go to Settings, choose Notifications. Use the Sensitive notifications toggle switch to determine whether or not personal information (such as the content of text messages) shows up on the lock screen, and the Notifications on lock screen setting to choose whether or not notifications display at all. You can also disable notifications on an app-by-app basis from the main Apps screen.
Finally, Android has a way to leave some contact information on the lock screen for those who might find your phone and want to return it. Launch the built-in Safety app (download it here if you don’t have it already), and follow the prompts to add an emergency contact or two and any medical information you feel is pertinent. Other people will be able to call these contacts and view this information without unlocking your phone, which could save your life in an emergency.