Cell Phones Track Your Movements by Default

Cell Phones Track Your Movements by Default

The big and very public smart phone privacy arguments are centering around government intrusions and data collection.  However, one very important detail is falling through the cracks of media coverage, and it impacts anyone who has a smart phone or tablet.  Programs in Android as well as Apple operating systems track your movements, aggregate data and store information both on your device as well as out there in the ether. 

The scary thing is that these settings are switched on by default.  You need to dig through buried privacy settings in order to turn them off.  Unfortunately, this is completely legal as long as these companies give you the option to turn them on or off, even if they don’t make this obvious to consumers from the beginning.  Consequently, anyone who accesses your phone, whether from law enforcement or an estranged lover, can know where you’ve been, your travel habits as well as what you do. 

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Aggregation of Services

This feature differs from various apps and other data-collecting services that we are more familiar with.  It’s called “frequent locations”, and it acts more like an umbrella that takes in data from various sources in order to target advertising efforts, pre-load driving routes, provide suggestions based on your habits and even alert you to things that range from construction and transit disruptions to events in your area.  In a nutshell, your phone quickly learns where you go, what you do and when you do them.

Since this information is stored, anyone, especially investigators, can quickly ascertain whether you were at a place you told them.  Your boss could use it to see if you were really home sick, and the government can easily build a profile about your life.  What is even more scary is that anyone who has access to this real-time as well as stored data can know when you are home.  Not good news for anyone who cherishes their privacy.

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How to Manage This Feature

You can switch this feature off by going into the settings of your devices.  For Android-powered devices, go into settings and tap on “location”.  Scroll down until you find Google Location Settings and tap on that.  Tap on Location Reporting and Location History.  You can now move the slider to the off position.  The next step is to clear your location cache and history.  Under Location History, there’s an option called Delete Location History.  Tap it, and the device will be clear from your previous travels and nothing new should show up as long as Location Reporting is switched off.  Make sure that you do this for all of your Google accounts.

If you have an Apple device, tap into “settings”.  Then go to Privacy and find Location Services.  Scroll until you locate System Services.  Look for Frequent Locations.  You will see a log of all of your movements, and this should be enough to scare anyone.  Switch this option off and the history will be deleted and future tracking should be disabled.

Keep in mind that these steps will only clear your device of your past movements while supposedly preventing them from monitoring your movements in the future.  However, this will not delete any information that these companies have already stored in the ether somewhere.  Furthermore, you will not be able to use a lot of apps that rely on these services in order to function properly.  So, it’s important that you weigh the pros and cons of using these services or giving up your privacy. 

Finally, this is much different than removing your battery while moving from place to place in order to prevent your device from tracking you.  This stores and aggregates data and builds a profile, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that anyone can use this information to predict your movements in the future.  This will also not prevent the NSA or other government agencies from spying on you.  However, it can turn out to be very helpful if you ever lose or have your device stolen in order to protect details about your life from falling into the wrong hands.

Make sure that you take care of this now if you are concerned about privacy, and seriously consider creating a new Google account in order to start fresh in order to make your trail of digital bread crumbs disappear.


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