January 16, 2020
The use of location tracking by private companies is becoming more ubiquitous, whether or not they need the information to effectively provide their service. Instead this highly personal data is often shared or sold without our knowledge to third parties. The most benign use for this data is to create highly targeted ads, but companies could also use individual and collective location data to affect health care, political campaigns, and employment. Storing this data also opens up the risk of it being obtained by a nefarious party who could use it for identity theft, credit card fraud, or other fraudulent activity.
Read our previous post, The Privacy Risks of Location Tracking, to learn more about how your location data is being used.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to keep companies from tracking your every move. Here’s how to regain your privacy:
(Please note that the following instructions may differ slightly for your device depending on your current software version.)
1. Deny apps access to your location
When you download a new app onto your smartphone, click “Deny” when it asks you to share your location. For those apps you’ve already allowed access to this information, you can easily disable this feature for all apps in one fell swoop. Here’s how:
How to deny apps access to your location for iPhone users
- Go to settings → Privacy → Location Services
How to deny apps access to your location for Android users
- Go to settings → Biometrics and security → App permissions → Location Services
Under Location Services you have two options:
1) Disable location services entirely (this is not recommended if any of your apps rely on your location to provide you their services, such as Google Maps or Uber)
2) Adjust the level of access in each app (either never share your location, always share your location, or only share while using the app)
Even if you only allow apps to access your location while using the app, there’s another setting that iPhone users need to double check. Apple uses something called Background App Refresh to optimize the ability of apps to download updates when you’re connected to Wi-Fi, plugged into a power source, or being actively used. This is supposed to preserve battery life and make your apps work more efficiently, but it also allows apps to track your location (and share it) even when you’re not using the app. To disable this feature do the following:
How to disable Background App Refresh (only for iPhone users)
- Go to Settings → General → Background App Refresh
- Select “Off”
You can also select to only allow those apps that you trust to utilize this feature. To selectively disable this setting, leave Background App Refresh set to “On” and then scroll down to disable specific apps.
When you disable Background App Refresh, you can still receive push notifications but you may notice that some apps take slightly longer to launch upon opening. For example, apps like news sites that are constantly refreshing their content, may not display the most current content when you first open the app. You will experience a slight lag while the app refreshes and loads the latest content.
2. Keep your phone’s operating system up to date
It’s also important to download the most recent operating system on your smartphone to utilize the latest privacy protection safeguards. Keeping your operating systems up to date across your devices is always one of our top recommendations when it comes to cybersecurity.
Related post: 7 IT Mistakes Your Small Business is Probably Making
3. Disable your mobile ad ID
Your mobile ad ID is a unique number for your phone that is shared with advertisers and app creators along with your location data. While this number is supposed to keep your identity anonymous, by combining it with your daily or hourly movements, third parties can learn your full name, home address, place of employment, and more. Here’s how to disable this revealing feature:
How to disable your mobile ad ID for iPhone users
- Go to Settings→ Privacy→ Advertising
- Here you will see a setting titled ‘Limit Ad Tracking.’ Toggle this setting to ‘On.’
How to disable your mobile ad ID for Android users
- Go to Settings → Google → Ads
- Under Ads, turn on Opt out of Ads Personalization
4. Don’t let Google store your location data
If you have a Google account, Google may be storing your location data anytime you’re signed into your account. According to Google, by allowing them access to your “Location History” the company can provide you “personalized maps, recommendations based on places you’ve visited, help finding your phone, real-time traffic updates about your commute, and more useful ads.” Unless you have opted in to Location History, the default setting is ‘Off.’ To ensure Location History isn’t in use do the following:
How to disable Location History
- In your Google account, go to Data and Personalization→ Activity Controls→ Location History
- If it’s not set to “Paused,” click Location History and pause the setting
How to delete past Location History data
To delete past location data, start from ‘Location History’ in your Google account (see above) and click Learn More. From here, you’ll find instructions for how to manually delete your location history and how to set it to automatically delete any history that’s older than 3 months or 18 months.
Putting our trust in private companies
The above steps will help limit the location data that you share with private companies, but it won’t prevent location tracking entirely. There are currently no federal regulations around collecting this type of data, so we have to think critically before we share any personal information with apps and hope that more companies adopt internal policies to protect their users’ data. Of course, since there’s no one but the companies themselves to enforce those policies, we’re forced to trust their word if we want to take part in the current world of tech and stay relevant as individuals and businesses.
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