If you have a smartphone with a small data bucket, then one of your biggest concerns is the inadvertent use of data by an app without your explicit permission. Secondarily you might also be concerned about accidentally using an app that consumes a large quantity of data. There are ways to control access on an Android phone, and I will discuss those options in this article.
Android nativity has support for a way to block background usage of an app. For many this will prove to be all they need, but setting it up is a bit of a pest because the O/S provides no easy way to select multiple apps at once. Each app, for which you wish to disallow background usage, must be set individually. This can be extremely annoying.
Here’s how to use the built-in functionality: First open the main settings menu for your phone. Select the item labeled Data Usage and you’ll see a small graph that displays your usage over the last month. You can slide the vertical markers on the graph to specify any given start or end date within that 30-day period.
If you scroll the screen up at this point you’ll see a list of each application and how much data it has used (based on the start and end limits you specified in the graph above). If you touch on any of these apps in the list you’ll see a pie chart that shows you how much foreground data the app has used vs how much background it has used. In case you weren’t sure, foreground data is defined as any data the app uses while it is displayed on the screen and the user is able to interact with it. Background data is defined as any data the app uses while it is hidden.
If you scroll this screen down you’ll find a checkbox marked “Restrict background data”. If you check this box, the app will no longer be allowed to use data in the background while you are connected to a cellular data network. It will only be able to connect to the internet while you have the app on the screen and are interacting with it. However, note that this restriction only applies to cellular data and NOT when connected to WiFi.
As noted earlier, you’ll have to repeat...
this last step for each and every app on your phone to effectively block background data from all but the apps you wish to allow unrestricted access. Additionally, there is no easy way to see which apps are restricted and which are wide-open in a bulk manner. You must click on each and every app to find this out.
However, there is a much better way to handle this, and it’s known as a FIREWALL. You’ve probably heard this term used in conjunction with desktop computers. It’s a piece of software that essentially stands as a sentry at the entrance to the internet. It can block or allow access based on criteria you setup.
There are lots of different firewall apps available in the Google Play Store, some requiring ROOT, some not. This isn’t intended to be a review of available apps, so you’ll have to read the reviews for the one you try to make sure it meets your needs. Most of these firewall applications allow for much more user-friendly way of setting up the restrictions.
However, the biggest plus for a stand-alone firewall app is that it allows you to block foreground data too, and if you really want to you can even block apps from gaining access to WiFi (though this is not a very useful feature for most people). By blocking cellular data access BY DEFAULT (another feature of most firewall apps) you can be sure that only those apps you GRANT access to can use up your data. You’ll never have to worry about installing a new app that then goes ahead and transfers a huge amount of data.
None of this is of use to you if you have a large (or possibility unlimited) monthly data bucket. However, not everyone can afford such a plan and many users are stuck with 100, 250, or 500 MB of data per month. It doesn’t take much to accidentally blow through this much data via an app that does things in the background you don’t know about, or even a foreground app that you didn’t INTEND to use while you were not on WiFi (the Google Play Store for example).
Using either of the defensive measures outlined above, subscribers with limited data should be able to avoid most unpleasant surprises that use up their monthly data prematurely.