The New York Times found that at least 75 companies receive people’s exact location data from hundreds of apps with location services enabled. The NYT reported that these companies are selling that information to advertisers and investment firms.
Location tracking apps include things like maps and weather, which rely on GPS signals to deliver results.
So, which apps are gathering data? Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer here. The NYT article says there isn’t a definitive list detailing which apps are currently tracking our whereabouts.
Some apps collect location data and sell it to third parties right away, while others hang on to data and use it later.
In those cases, the makers of the app might be saving the information for targeted ads, emails, or something else.
How to stop location tracking on your phone
The process of turning off tracking is likely familiar to most readers. In your phone’s settings, you can opt in or out of location tracking services.
In case you need a refresher, here is a brief rundown of how to do this on your phone:
iPhone location settings
if you’re using an iPhone, check the settings for each individual app. Many apps come with internal settings that allow you to indicate that you don’t want your location used for advertising or whatever else. iPhones 8 or later give you control over which apps have access to the information stored on your device.
What this means is, you’ll have to grant messaging apps permission to import your contact list or social media sites access to your camera.
Apple’s privacy page, however, does explicitly state that if you allow third-party apps to use your location data, you play by their rules.
Of course, the company recommends you read the terms of service that lays it all out. Not a bad idea, but who really does this?
When you install a new app, there’s the familiar screen that asks if you’d like to allow X app to access your location while using the app. Click allow or don’t allow.
To turn off location services, head over to the privacy settings and press location services. There, you can choose which apps have access to location data and which you’d like to disable.
Android location settings
On Android, it’s a little more complicated. Android phones don’t allow you to limit an app’s access to your data to when you’re using it. Instead, apps that have permission to track can do so, whether you have the program running or not.
The newest versions of Android software allow you to limit data collection to just “a few times per hour” but that doesn’t give you any control — it just mitigates the risks of round-the-clock-tracking.
Of course, you can always just disable location services. But, the downside is, it interferes with your ability to use the GPS, call an Uber, or order food.
The problem is, however, there’s no good way to know what happens with the data you give apps access to. The NYT reported that they don’t know which 70-ish companies are buying data from your favorite weather app.
The only solution, again, is combing over privacy policies. Sorry.
Maybe it’s Google you need to worry about?
According to an August 2018 AP investigation, Google tracks location histories even if you’ve turned off the feature.
The problem, at the time of reporting, affected over 2 billion people using Google Maps on their devices. This number represents anyone with an iPhone or Android running the program. According to the support page, once you turn off your Location History for your Google account, it’s off for any device linked to that account.
Google’s location tracking deception may violate more than consumer trust. It also violates the FTC’s consumer protection statutes against deceptive privacy policies.
How to disable Google Location History (for real)
Browser and iOS
- Sign into Google
- Go to Google Account (dropdown menu in upper right corner)
- Personal Info and Privacy —> My Activity
- Click activity controls —> Web & App Activity
- Then, toggle setting to off
- Go to Google settings from Google Account
- Tap data and personalization
- Click web app and activity and do the same
Of course, this information is super vague. Google’s description of the Web & App activity settings is, turning it on saves your activity on Google sites. The benefit, according to Google, is faster searches, better recommendations, and personalized Maps, Search and other “experiences.”
As you can see, turning off location tracking data is relatively simple. The main thing consumers need to be aware of is actually keeping track of which apps they’re giving their data to.
In many cases, forking over your data has benefits. Most app-based services use your location to deliver their set of offerings — think Uber, Lyft, Grubhub. Google Maps and Waze keep us from getting lost.
And then there’s the fact that it’s just plain convenient to use your Google log-in across sites and devices.
At the end of the day, between the Facebook fiascos and Google’s misleading auto-tracking practices, there are no more excuses to opt out of being informed. So, we’ll leave you with another tired reminder: make sure you read the privacy policies for all of your apps.