Everybody ought to be interested in this. The New York Times published a fabulous article on the massive tracking of customers by companies through our cell phones. It’s as if they know where we go all day, every day, and when we go there – because they do!
Along with that the Times published an article with specific advice on how you can prevent some of that tracking. Mainly by not allowing it on your cell phone settings. It seems that many of the default settings are to allow tracking, yet most people never know. I consider myself to be an informed consumer, mostly, and I was shocked to see the dozens of companies to whom I had given permission (by default) to track my location through their apps.
This is not intended to prevent you from reading the Times articles. I hope that you do read them, as I did. Here are the privacy tips. Prepare to be surprised.
Stop sharing your location with apps
The most important thing you can do now is to disable location sharing for apps already on your phone. (Don’t worry, your phone will automatically send its location to emergency responders if you dial 911.) It’s easy to do this without having to open each app.
Select your device
To turn off location sharing, go to Settings Privacy Location Services. You can choose when to share your location for each app.
You can also prevent your phone from sharing your location in the background. To do so, go to Settings General Background App Refresh. This will not affect your ability to receive push notifications.
Many apps that request your location, like weather, coupon or local news apps, often work just fine without it. There’s no reason a weather app, for instance, needs your precise, second-by-second location to provide forecasts for your city.
Apple has recently made it harder for companies to snoop on your whereabouts via backdoor methods like checking for nearby Bluetooth and Wi-Fi networks. Make sure your phone’s operating system is updated to benefit from these safeguards.
Disable your mobile ad ID
Your online activity is often tied together and tracked using your mobile advertising ID, which is a unique number created by your phone and sent to advertisers and app makers.
Since location data is sent along with your ad ID, it can be tied to other data about you. You can disable this feature entirely in your privacy settings, limiting the ways companies can tie your activities together.
Go to Settings Privacy Advertising and turn on Limit Ad Tracking.
Prevent Google from storing your location
If you have a Google account, the company may already have saved a trove of location data tied to your devices. You can prevent Google from collecting this information by going to your account’s location activity controls and turning off location sharing.
Understand location tracking is hard to avoid
You can do only so much. Location vendors are engaged in a race to find new ways to ferret out your devices, regardless of whether you followed the steps above. Some will try to identify you using your device type, I.P. address, screen size and even volume and screen brightness, in a process called “fingerprinting.”
Your mobile carrier also collects location pings while your phone is turned on, regardless of whether you followed the steps above. Telecom companies were recently caught selling that data to companies that then resold it to bounty hunters, who used it to find phones in real time. The telecom companies have since pledged to stop selling the data, but they still collect it.
Interested in doing more to keep your location to yourself? Try the Privacy Pro SmartVPN app, which allows users to monitor apps and block them from additional forms of data sharing.
Real protections will come only if federal laws are passed to limit what companies can do with the data they collect. Until then, no matter what settings we choose, we’re all at risk.
Stuart A. Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and editor in the Opinion section. Gus Wezerek (email@example.com) is a graphics editor for Opinion.