If an app publisher tells you that they will keep your secrets safe would you trust them? But as this advice is not always heeded, the next best thing is to keep them safe from prying eyes should anyone borrow, steal or find your phone.
Encouraged by a recent article on the shortcomings of the Snapchat safe sexting app , I tried a few apps that promise to protect your privacy, but often fail to do anything of the kind. These examples are all based on tests I conducted on an Android smartphone, but many of the apps are also available for iPhone.
Pictures vanish from Gallery and are locked behind easy-to-use PIN pad. Protect your private pictures Secret Pictures locks your private pictures with your PIN. Only you can see the pictures in Secret Pictures. But all it really does is move photos to a poorly hidden directory from where the photos can be viewed and shared. All it takes is a file browser and your privacy is ruined! No one touches your private data without permission! Instead the PhotoSafe app renames the file you want to hide in a weak attempt to disguise it, putting some extra characters after the file extension.
You can either rename the file or instruct the phone that the file is an image, and once again it is viewable and shareable just like any normal photo.
Selected pictures vanish from your photo gallery, and stay locked behind an easy-to-use PIN pad. With KeepSafe, only you can see your hidden pictures. This one has similar failings as the first two apps, using a weakly hidden directory and renaming the images, again easily overcome with nothing more than a file browser. There are some apps for hiding the pictures and text messages on your Android which live up to their promises although they all seem to come with some trade-off. All this functionality does come at a price though.
After an initial number of free uses you have to pay in order to be able to encrypt or hide further files. Private Gallery Another promising looking app is Private Gallery which also seems to encrypt your photos meaning they can not easily be viewed outside of the app.
Vaulty The last app I tried was Vaulty which also seems to live up to its promises. Vaulty looks a little more considerate in that it asks for a more acceptable list of permissions. It also offers a decent balance of functionality in the free version with optional extras in paid-for plugins. Looking into the history of Vaulty highlighted a different problem though. An automatic update from the developer borked the app for many users, rendering their encrypted files inaccessible. The fault was corrected in a rushed patch but it still demonstrates that should this happen again your protected photos and files might not always be recoverable.
Of course, this risk applies equally to any app which encrypts your data. In summary, not all apps are created equal and two apps that appear to offer the same service might in fact give very different levels of functionality. After all, they promised the unsuspecting user that they would protect those secrets.
It would be better if the descriptions of these Android apps properly reflected what each app does and does not do. At least then users can make an informed choice about how much they wish to trust the app, and whether it is sufficient for the intended purpose. And, of course, my advice echos those who have gone before me — there is really no situation where you absolutely have to store on your phone naked photographs of yourself.