8 ways your phone is tracking you that you can stop now
You understand that your phone knows where you’re located.
This is how GPS works, how Find My Friends sees your location, and why you get local ads on Facebook and Google.
Like other data on your phone, that location data is a hot commodity for internet marketers in today’s digital economy.
Targeted advertising is one of the biggest enterprises on the web.
Companies are eager to serve you ads for products you’re likely to buy, and that data helps them hit their mark.
Some companies have even made this their primary business model. Tap or click here to see one shocking way Facebook tracks your data.
Thankfully, you don’t have to stand for this kind of data collection if you’re uncomfortable with it.
These tactics are legal because the companies behind them give you a choice to opt in or out, but not everyone knows how to change the settings.
We’ll show you how to stop your phone from tracking you.
Ready to go dark? Let’s get started.
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1. Tweak your phone’s location settings
You can prevent iOS and Android from tracking you, but companies don’t make it easy.
The feature is buried inside your device’s privacy settings and, by default, records your daily routine.
Known as “Frequent Locations,” it keeps track of where you are and how long you stay there. It even knows where you live and work based on how long you’re there and when you visit.
If you find this unsettling, you can turn the feature off.
Here are the basic steps, but depending on your specific model and operating system, you may need to follow different instructions.
Turn off location settings on Apple Devices
- Open Settings.
- Tap Privacy & Security.
- Select Location Services.
- Scroll down to System Services.
- Choose Significant Locations to see the logged record of where you’ve been and toggle it off.
You can also clear your history here by clicking Clear History.
Change location settings on Android Devices
- Open Settings.
- Scroll down and tap Location or Advanced if you have a work profile.
- At the top, turn Use location off.
- To delete your device’s location cache, tap Delete Location History at the bottom of the screen under Location History.
- Repeat this process for each Google Account you have on your Android device.
2. Limit ad tracking
Ending location tracking may sound extreme, so you may prefer to combat the ads themselves.
Thankfully, iOS and Android provide built-in options to minimize and limit ad tracking.
These tools will not totally stop companies from tracking your phone activities and won’t limit the number of ads you see.
Still, they will allow you to reset your advertising ID and unlink any targeted advertising profiles associated with your gadgets.
Here’s how to limit ad tracking on both iOS and Android:
iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch
- Open Settings.
- Tap Privacy & Security.
- Tap Apple Advertising.
- Toggle Personalized Ads Off. You can also view your ad targeting info here.
- Go to Settings.
- Tap Google.
- Tap Ads.
- Toggle on Opt out of ads personalization.
3. Stop Google from tracking your every move
Google services have come under fire for storing your location data – even if you’ve tweaked the privacy settings on your iPhone or Android gadgets.
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To turn off Google’s location tracking for good, try these settings:
Turn off Web and App Activity:
- Sign in to your Google Account.
- Click on Data & personalization.
- Under Activity Controls, tap Web & App Activity and turn it off.
To automatically delete your activity, just scroll down to Web & App Activity or YouTube History and tap Manage Activity.
At the top right, click the three-button menu and Keep activity for. Modify the time frame here.
Here you can turn off the different data types saved to your Google account. Tap or click here for more details on what Google knows about you.
Pausing Location History doesn’t completely turn off Google’s location markers.
However, it does stop Google from adding your movements to your Timeline.
But location data is still being saved on your Web and App Activity.
This fun fact is important.
To prevent location markers from being saved, you have to pause your Web and App Activity toggle, too.
When this feature is paused, none of your activity from your Google services will be saved on your account.
4. Consider a different browser on your phone
Many of you are familiar with private web browsers.
But few know about the browsers that allow you to search the internet on a mobile device with much less tracking.
This is handy if you want to look up a product, for example, without getting spammed with ads for it later.
In Chrome, you can use Incognito Mode to stop Google from remembering your web activity.
Open up Chrome, tap the three-dot menu to the right of the address bar, and select New Incognito tab.
Mozilla’s free Firefox Focus app is another solid option that erases passwords and browsing history after each session.
Alternatively, iPhone users can use the default Safari browser and access a private window for stealthy browsing.
Just tap the window icon in the bottom right corner and select Private.
To exit this mode, follow the same steps and tap Private again to return to your ordinary browsing windows.
If you don’t like the idea of Google recording all your search terms, alternative search engines such as DuckDuckGo don’t track you as aggressively. Tap or click here for Google alternatives that don’t track you.
5. Check your online accounts
When you create an account with a major company (e.g., Google, Microsoft, or Facebook), you feed them data about your location, personality, and preferences.
Their algorithms will track your every click, and data will be used for targeted ads or relevant posts.
Thankfully, these companies — and most advertising firms — give you tools to opt out of personalized ad tracking.
For example, Google and Microsoft have account dashboards for privacy controls and for checking what they each know about you. Tap or click here to see what Microsoft knows about you.
Google revamped its ad settings to make it easier to understand and limit ad tracking.
Facebook also has options for turning off behavioral tracking to keep it from following you around the web. Tap or click here to find out more about it.
The company is also auditing its third-party apps, which are now more accessible to view and control.
6. Opt out of ads
Believe it or not, you can opt out of interest-based advertising — or at least most of it.
The Digital Advertising Alliance has a consumer choice page that lets you see which participating partners currently target you with customized ads on your phone.
When you first visit the website, the Alliance will scan your device. Once the scan is complete, you’ll be shown a list of these partners.
From there, you can learn more about the practices these companies use for interest-based ads and opt-out using opt-out cookies stored in your browser with your preferences.
It’s important to note that doing this won’t remove all the ads you see online. Advertisers just won’t be able to serve you targeted ads.
7. Check your virtual assistants
With the rise of virtual assistants like Siri and Google Assistant, our smartphones are no longer used strictly for calls and chats — we can now use our voices to command these gadgets; however, when you utter wake words, the audio file of your voice command is uploaded and saved to Apple, Amazon, or Google’s servers for “processing.”
Chances are, as with any other tracking information, this data is likely anonymized and run through algorithms that look for behaviors and patterns that can be used for targeted advertising. Tap or click here to read more about our modern gadgets’ voice control technology and how to stop them from recording you.
8. Control permissions on your apps
Before you install apps, always check their permissions posted on their Google Play or Apple App Store pages.
Android phones will also give you a rundown of the permission requests upon app installation.
Apple apps will typically show you a permission access pop-up.
Sometimes apps ask for more information than they need. That information can then be sent to companies that might use it for advertising.
This is why checking your app permissions regularly is good practice.
It will give you more privacy control and stop apps from potentially spying, and it can also weed out apps that are continually running in the background.
Fortunately, checking app permissions is not that hard.
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