PROTECT YOUR PHONE PRIVACY
IF YOU OWN A MOBILE PHONE, its every move is logged and tracked by dozens of companies.
No one is beyond the reach of this constant digital surveillance.
Not even the president of the United States.
The Times Privacy Project obtained a dataset with more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million people in this country. It was a random sample from 2016 and 2017, but it took only minutes — with assistance from publicly available information — for us to deanonymize location data and track the whereabouts of President Trump.
A single dot appeared on the screen, representing the precise location of someone in President Trump’s entourage at 7:10 a.m. It lingered around the grounds of the president’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., where the president was staying, for about an hour. The dot traveled to the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, about 30 minutes north of the hotel, pinging again at 9:24 a.m. just outside the compound. The president was there to play golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. There the dot stayed until at least 1:12 p.m., when it moved to the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, where the world leaders enjoyed a private lunch.
YOUR SMARTPHONE is one of the world’s most advanced surveillance tools. This week, Times Opinion is reporting on a huge trove of location data showing the precise location movements for millions of Americans.
Once your location is shared with the companies, there’s no way to delete that information or get it back. Your best bet is to avoid sharing your location in the first place — at least until the government bestirs itself to begin regulating how that information is collected, used and sold.
Stop sharing your location with apps
The most important thing you can do now is to disable location sharing for apps already on your phone. (Don’t worry, your phone will automatically send its location to emergency responders if you dial 911.) It’s easy to do this without having to open each app.
To turn off location sharing, go to
You can choose when to share your location for each app.
You can also prevent your phone from sharing your location in the background.
To do so, go to
+Background App Refresh
This will not affect your ability to receive push notifications.
Many apps that request your location, like weather, coupon or local news apps, often work just fine without it.
There’s no reason a weather app, for instance, needs your precise, second-by-second location to provide forecasts for your city.
Apple has recently made it harder for companies to snoop on your whereabouts via backdoor methods like checking for nearby Bluetooth and Wi-Fi networks.
Make sure your phone’s operating system is updated to benefit from these safeguards.
Disable your mobile ad ID
Your online activity is often tied together and tracked using your mobile advertising ID, which is a unique number created by your phone and sent to advertisers and app makers.
Since location data is sent along with your ad ID, it can be tied to other data about you.
You can disable this feature entirely in your privacy settings, limiting the ways companies can tie your activities together.
Go to :
and TURN ON “Limit Ad Tracking.”
Prevent Google from storing your location
If you have a Google account, the company may already have saved a trove of location data tied to your devices. You can prevent Google from collecting this information by going to your account’s location activity controls and turning off location sharing.
Understand location tracking is hard to avoid.
You can do only so much. Location vendors are engaged in a race to find new ways to ferret out your devices, regardless of whether you followed the steps above. Some will try to identify you using your device type, I.P. address, screen size and even volume and screen brightness, in a process called “fingerprinting.”
Your mobile carrier also collects location pings while your phone is turned on, regardless of whether you followed the steps above. Telecom companies were recently caught selling that data to companies that then resold it to bounty hunters, who used it to find phones in real time. The telecom companies have since pledged to stop selling the data, but they still collect it.
Interested in doing more to keep your location to yourself? Try the Privacy Pro SmartVPN app, which allows users to monitor apps and block them from additional forms of data sharing.
Real protections will come only if federal laws are passed to limit what companies can do with the data they collect. Until then, no matter what settings we choose, we’re all at risk.
Correction: Jan. 13, 2020
An earlier version of this article included a technique for preventing location sharing on smartphones in error.
Location sharing will continue even if the user turns off Background App Refresh.
Stuart A. Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and editor in the Opinion section.
Gus Wezerek (email@example.com) is a graphics editor for Opinion.
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