It can be useful to have your smartphone report exactly where you are. But if individual apps on your phone know where you are, it can be more damaging — or, if the location history they collect is sold to data brokers, downright infernal.
Now, the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has raised fears that smartphone data could be misused to track down women seeking abortions.
Those concerns are grounded in reality: A December 2021 study by the Center for Democracy & Technology, a Washington nonprofit, found that law enforcement and intelligence agencies often buy personal information from data brokers rather than seeking court orders for it. .
How do you stop your phone from selling your data?
Your smartphone has tools to limit data collection, but not all of them are obvious or easy.
Apple, which has long made privacy a part of its iPhone sales pitch, has added key location controls in iOS 13 of 2019 and iOS 14 of 2020.
The first update only allows you to allow ‘foreground’ location collection by an app – as in, while the app is open on your phone’s screen – while the second lets you give an app only your ‘estimated’ location.
The ability to block location tracking in the background can also prevent a lot of potential mischief.
While you might want a social media app like Facebook’s Instagram to know where you are when you’re sharing a photo, that app doesn’t need your GPS coordinates if you’ve focused on other programs on your phone.
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Can the location be tracked when the phone is turned off?
But the approximate location option can reduce the privacy risks of apps that you do want to run in the background — like a weather app that can warn you when it’s about to rain — or have ads that target you by location. In the case of a weather app, a location blurred to the nearest miles should be good enough for forecasting purposes.
To adjust these settings in iOS, open the Settings app, tap Privacy, then tap Location Services to see a list of which apps can always get your location. You can also see when you use them or not at all. Then just remove all “Precise Location” privileges.
Google has been slower to add similar features to its Android smartphone platform, but the location privacy controls it added with the 2021 Android 12 release match those in iOS.
To check them, open the Settings app and tap Location. That screen shows you which apps recently got your location. Tap “App Location Permissions” to see all those with full-time versus foreground-only location access. Then remove any permissions that give your precise coordinates.
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How do I hide my location without disabling it?
If your own Android smartphone does not offer these features, the manufacturer may not have supplied Android 12 for that device yet.
All in all, Google continues to follow Apple in its widespread distribution of updates to the operating system. That’s because phone vendors have to deliver those releases, while Google’s own Pixel phones don’t have that middleman.
Whether your phone is running Android or iOS, remember that your wireless carrier also knows your location in slightly less detail from its own cell towers — and keeps that data for one to five years.
Does Airplane Mode Hide My Location?
Putting your phone on airplane mode or turning it off completely will stop tracking but nothing else.
Apple or Google can’t release a single security patch to control that – only your elected officials can, and many have struggled for years to enact meaningful privacy laws.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.