We don’t think about how location-dependent our phones have become. To know precisely when it might start raining, we let our weather app track us to within a few hundred feet. Social media apps use our location constantly to suggest where we might want to check-in or tag, and we don’t bat an eye. We let our newest coupon app have every permission it asks for, and don’t give it another thought.
What are these companies really doing with our data?
The terms and conditions are so long and dense, not one in a million people actually read them. And when you do try to turn off certain permissions, the pop-up warns you that the app may not work.
Location data is the worst offender.
Simply not having your name or social security number attached to it doesn’t make it anonymous. Just tracking the route your phone takes between your home and workplace is enough to identify you from a simple White Pages search.
App companies claim our data is secure, but the multitude of breaches lately proves it’s not. Weather apps don’t need to track you by the second to provide forecasts to your city. Coupon sites don’t really need to know what stores you just walked past.
If you’re starting to think they don’t, there are a few things you can do to protect your privacy and limit the data your apps collect and sell.
1. Deny location access to apps
Find the app permissions in your general or settings menu, and open the list. Take a hard look at every app with location permissions enabled. Does the app truly need it? If not, flick the switch, and don’t worry about the warning that “certain features” may not work properly now. If it acts up, you can reconsider your permission.
2. Reset and/or disable your advertising ID
This 30-character, supposedly anonymized identifier lurks at the heart of every smartphone. Once paired with network data or personal account info, the data is no longer anonymous. For iOS, the setting is under Settings > Privacy > Advertising. Select the Limit Ad Tracking Option. For Android, go into Settings and find the area where you control and edit your Google account(s), and click Ads. You can limit ad tracking AND reset your advertising ID from this menu.
3. Turn off location history for your Google account
Maps will always find your current location when you open the app and take you to any address. The real problem begins when you designate locations such as home, work, doctor, or school, and Google starts to keep a log of where you’ve been. Turning off location history means that you won’t be able to tap a list of recents – you’ll have to type the address each time.
We should demand accountability from our app providers and threaten to end service unless they respect our privacy. Until then, put a crimp on their free data by checking all of your settings.
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