Apple and Google can track your every move. But there are ways to mitigate this or shut it down.
The tracking and snooping that Apple and Google do isn’t necessarily a nefarious plot to spy on you. It can make apps more useful. For example, data used by Google Maps can be helpful in getting directions.
That said, it’s not always clear how app providers harvest and use this data. There's no telling, for example, how a shopping or dating app may use your data.
The New York Times reported this week that a variety of companies use location data when users enable location services.
Set against this backdrop, users need to think about privacy. “Companies use IP addresses, advertising IDs, and cookies to track users and store details about their online behaviors, browsing history, searches, purchases, viewing habits, and more,” Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate at Comparitech.com, told Fox News.
“The resulting ‘profiles’ sold to third parties might not have names attached, but they can be so specific as to only belong to a single person or small group of people,” he added.
Generally, disable your phone's location services when not in use, Bischoff said.
iPhone / iOS: turn off tracking
In iOS go to “Settings” then select “Privacy” and turn off the “Location Services.” You can also turn off tracking for individual apps on the list that appears below Location Services. Apple, however, warns on its support page that these actions will "limit the performance of various Apple and third-party apps."
Even if you don't turn off Location features, Apple will give you reminders about apps using location data in the background. For example, a screen may pop up and say, “’Weather’ has been using your location in the background. Do you want to continue allowing this?”
And if you want to do something less drastic such as curb ad tracking, on the Privacy page under “Advertising” you can turn on “Limit Ad Tracking.”
Google/Android: turn off tracking
With Google, it can be a little more involved because Google is not only in charge of Android but its reach extends to the popular Chrome browser and to Google Search.
On Android, go to the Settings icon on your phone and then tap “Security & location.” Then under “Privacy” tap "Location" then tap “Use Location” and turn that off. Or below Use Location on “App-level permissions” you can turn off the location permissions for individual apps.
But you may want to go a step further. Go to your Google My Account page and turn off “Location History.” Then, if you have more serious privacy concerns, you can opt to turn off “Web & App Activity.”
“Remember that Google is a bit sneaky in this regard, as some apps collect location data even if your location history is disabled. You'll have to turn off all tracking of web and app activity, which may impact how other Google apps function,” Compareitech’s Bischoff said.
And some more tips about app tracking from Marco DeMello, CEO of app security specialist PSafe.
“When the product is free you are the product,” DeMello said, citing a widely-used axiom of the Internet. “Consider going for a premium or, at a minimum, an ads-free version of an app/game you're using or interested in. When you pay for services there's no incentive to sell your data,” DeMello said.
“Keep your phone like you keep your house – clean. Don’t keep around apps and/or games you no longer need or use. [It will] reduce the chance of these apps and/or games capturing and profiting from your data,” DeMello added.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment for comment on this story. Google provided pages (linked to above) that explain how to manage your location data on Android devices and in apps.