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Why it’s important to be savvy about your location data

Did you know that Google knows everywhere you go? Not exactly the horror sequel to “I Know What You Did Last Summer” we expected, but not any less uncomfortable either. Now, think of the myriad of other apps that know your location.

Some might say that there is nothing to worry about. That the location data is anonymous and you won’t stand out from the crowd. And the New York Times would prove them wrong, having tracked a school teacher’s entire route for one day: from her workplace, to a medical appointment, all the way to an ex-boyfriend’s home.

Now imagine that a vengeful ex (or a random stranger) gains access to all that location data. People are already using apps called “stalkerware” to spy on their former partners, so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities.

There’s no doubt that location data has brought many conveniences to peoples’ lives. Even the teacher in the example above agreed that she liked recording her jogging routes this way. But one has to wonder: how does Google knowing that you’re visiting a friend factor into all of this?

Getting Into the Privacy Mindset

While there are some privacy-focused apps out there that don’t track you by default (or at all, for that matter), the general rule is that location tracking is on unless you disable it yourself. In fact, it’s a core component of fitness apps like Strava (that gave away the location of secret US army bases through its heatmaps).

Ultimately, it’s in the best interest of app developers to have your location data. The apps are “free” simply because the data you provide is valuable to them, and that’s not going away. Thus, it falls onto users to practice due diligence and opt out of this data collection.

Here’s how to do it on most major operating systems.

How to Disable Location on iOS

iOS devices have a handy Privacy menu located in Settings. Head there, then tap Location Services to bring up a list of apps that are using your location data. If you’re sure you don’t need any app with location-tracking tech (like Google Maps), then feel free to turn off Location Services completely.

Otherwise, you can fine-tune everything to your needs. For example, switch the location tracking for GPS-style apps to “While Using” so it only does that while you have it open. It’s safe to say that no app needs to track your location at all times; so don’t leave them on “Always.”

How to Disable Location on Android

Enter the Settings menu, then tap on “Apps & notifications.” There should be a sub-menu called “App permissions” where you can toggle the access privileges for your apps, from camera to location. There are plenty of Android versions with different menu layouts, so yours may not work exactly this way:

  • Android Oreo (8.0 – 8.1) users will need to go from Settings > Location > App-level permissions to find what they need.
  • For Android Nougat (7.0 – 7.1.2) and below, go to Settings > Apps then tap the small gear icon in the top-right corner (or the three dots where unavailable). Here you’ll find an option called “App permissions” – tap on it and look for “Location.”

Alternatively, you can swipe down from the top of the screen to bring up the quick settings tray. You’ll find a variety of switches here (Wi-Fi, etc.) and there’s also a “Location” icon to disable or enable it on the fly. This works for most Android versions, though it can be tiresome if you often find yourself needing location-based apps.

Google also has a guide on how to delete your location history (and enable automatic deletion after a certain period), right here.

How to Disable Location on Windows

The fact that Windows 10 is a privacy nightmare has been discussed to no end since it first came out. This isn’t a hit-piece on Microsoft, however, so here’s what menus you need to access in order to disable location tracking:

Start Menu > Settings > Privacy > Location

You’ll find a toggle for Location on this page, or you can scroll down to find location service toggles for specific apps.

How to Disable Location on Mac

As with the Win 10 guide, here’s what menus you need to go through to turn off location data on a Mac:

Apple menu (top-left corner of the screen) > System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy > Location Services

Once here, “Click the lock to make changes” as the message at the bottom says. You can uncheck the box next to “Enable Location Services” to turn them off completely, or pick off apps individually.

Other Ways Your Location Is Tracked

Social media apps like Facebook and Twitter have account-level location settings, which you need to disable even if you’ve already done so in your device settings. Here are some guides on how to do it for:

Finally, anybody can determine your location through the IP address your device uses. Any stalker, criminal, or somebody you just don’t want knowing where you are. This may not matter that much if you use public Wi-Fi, but let’s be honest: most people use the Internet primarily from home.

You can’t “disable” your IP like you would location services, but you don’t have to. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), like TunnelBear, allow you to hide your real IP address and replace it with the IP of the server you’re connecting to, which is usually located in a different country.

Another privacy-oriented feature of VPNs is the ability to encrypt (i.e. obfuscate) all your network traffic – making it unreadable to just about any outsiders. It’s a must-have in this age of mass government surveillance and of ISPs selling customer data. Not to mention that all sensitive operations (online payments, email logins, and more) can be easily targeted by the increasing number of hackers.

Also Read: Users most willing to share location data with mobility sector: New study

Note: This is a guest blog by Tim Mocan who has been writing about VPNs and cybersecurity for over three years