How to lock down your Android Wi-Fi settings to improve privacy

Martin Brinkmann
Jul 16, 2014
Google Android

The Electronic Frontier Foundation discovered that the majority of Android devices were leaking Wi-Fi connection history data to anyone within range.

This location history contains the names of Wi-Fi networks that the device has been connected to in the past. While it may contain cryptic names, it may also contain names such as "Home", "London Heathrow Airport" or "Tom's Mancave" that can be easily identified location-wise.

The feature that makes this possible was introduced in Android 3.1 Honeycomb. It is called Preferred Network Offload (PNO) and its purpose is to allow Android phones and tablets "to establish and maintain Wi-Fi connections even when they're in low-power mode" to extend battery life and reduce mobile data usage.

Not all devices leak SSID information though. Apple's iPhone, Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite, the HTC One Mini or the Samsung Galaxy S4 don't leak the information, while Google's Nexus 4 and 5, the HTC One or the Samsung Galaxy Nexus do.

What you can do about it

There is unfortunately not a lot that you can do about it. Google has created a fix for the issue according to the EFF but it will take a while before it lands on user devices.

There are however some options in regards to Wi-Fi settings on Android devices that lock down the phone at least partially.

Note: The device used to demonstrate this is a Moto G running Android 4.4.2. Menus, names and options may differ depending on the version of Android and the manufacturer of it.

The Wi-Fi Settings

wi-fi lock down android

Tap on Settings and then on Wi-Fi in the settings menu. Here you find a list of all wireless access points in the vicinity, and whether your phone is connected to a wireless network at that time.

Locate the settings icon in the lower right corner of the screen, tap on it, and select advanced from the context menu that opens up.

Here you find several interesting options in regards to privacy:

  1. Keep Wi-Fi on during sleep - The EFF recommends to turn this feature off which will block the history leaking on some -- but not all -- Android devices. It did not work on a Motorola Droid 4 for example as the EFF points out.
  2. Scanning always available - If turned on, which it is by default, it allows Google's location service and other apps that make use of the feature to scan for networks, even if Wi-Fi is turned off.

Modifying the settings may block the information from being transmitted on some phones but not on all. You may want to consider disabling Wi-Fi whenever it is not in use. While you can do so manually each time, using apps such as Screen Off Wifi Off assist you in this by doing so automatically.

How to lock down your Android Wi-Fi settings to improve privacy
Article Name
How to lock down your Android Wi-Fi settings to improve privacy
Find out which preferences on Android you need to modify to improve your privacy in regards to wireless connections on the device.

Tutorials & Tips

Previous Post: «
Next Post: «


  1. said on July 18, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    What the hell is ??

    I am trying to lookup my own SSID, but I can’t find it. Keeps showing a US address, and I don’t live in the US.

Leave a Reply

Check the box to consent to your data being stored in line with the guidelines set out in our privacy policy

We love comments and welcome thoughtful and civilized discussion. Rudeness and personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please stay on-topic.
Please note that your comment may not appear immediately after you post it.