NEWS: Staying Off the Radar with Smart Location Settings

October 30, 2023

Understanding the Intricacies of Location Tracking

Our devices and applications are increasingly inclined to track our location. This tracking is often used to provide personalized weather updates, suggest restaurants in our vicinity, or to tailor advertisements to our preferences. However, managing these settings can often be a complex task. Moreover, there may be discrepancies in the location histories recorded by our devices. For instance, you might believe that you have disabled location sharing, only to find out that your movements are still being tracked, or vice versa. This article aims to simplify the complexities of location tracking, enabling you to have better control over your privacy settings.

Demystifying Location Tracking

Have you ever turned off location tracking on a device, only to find your location appearing on a map? Or perhaps you’ve noticed gaps in your location history despite having the feature enabled? The answers to these queries lie in understanding the various ways your location can be logged: by your devices, your applications, and the websites you visit.

Consider this: you might have switched off location tracking on your phone, but it could still be active on your tablet. Or, your laptop might be recording your location in the background, even though you believed you had disabled this feature on your applications. To completely enable or disable location tracking, you must consider all these different methods that can track your location.

Google Account as an Example

If you have a Google account, it serves as a good example of how location tracking works. Navigate to your account settings on the web, and select Data and Privacy and then Location History. Choose Devices on This Account, which might reveal devices that you had forgotten about. Any device with a check next to it in this list is recording your movements to your Google account for future reference.

You can click Turn Off to disable this feature, but there are certain exceptions to keep in mind. Your location might still be recorded by your mobile devices, by the Find My Device service that helps you recover lost hardware, and by Google Maps when you’re navigating or searching around your current location. This Location History setting is more of a general switch, affecting features like the Google Timeline and the ability to quickly look up places you visit regularly.

Other Locations Where Your Data Gets Logged

From the main Google account screen, there are several other places where your location gets logged and shared. Click on Data and Privacy, then Web & App Activity to manage location data saved by Google Maps and other apps and websites. Click on People and Sharing, then Manage Location Sharing to see a list of specific contacts who can see where you are through various Google services.

Managing Location Tracking on Mobile Devices

The process of managing your location on Android varies slightly depending on your phone’s manufacturer, but the instructions are generally similar. On Google Pixel devices, for instance, you can navigate to Settings and then select Location. Here, you’ll see the Use Location toggle switch. If you turn this off, none of your apps will be able to know where you are, nor will Google.

If you leave the Use Location toggle switch on, you can customize location access for individual apps on the same screen. Note that you can choose to allow apps to know where you are at all times, or only when the app in question is running in the foreground.

On iOS, the setup is similar. Select Privacy & Security from Settings, and then tap Location Services. Here, you can turn off location tracking for the phone and all the apps on it. If you choose to leave this enabled, you can manage individual app access to your location via the list underneath. As on Android, you can choose when apps have access to your location. Section 1: Managing Your Location Privacy on Mobile Devices

The ability to control the location access of applications on your mobile device is a critical feature. You have the option to restrict an app’s access to your location only while it’s in use, or to grant it permission to monitor your location even when it’s running in the background. However, deleting the location data that has been gathered about you can be a challenging task. This process involves scrutinizing the records and settings of every app that has ever been granted access to your location.

For those who use Google and its applications, the process involves visiting your Google account on the web. From there, you can navigate to either ‘Location History’ or ‘Web & App Activity’ under the ‘Data and Privacy’ section to erase this data from Google’s records. There are also options to set up automatic deletion of this data after specific periods: 3, 18, or 36 months.

Unlike Google, Apple has a different method of logging your movements. It compiles a list of places you frequently visit, like your home or workplace, for quick access in the future. To clear this list on your iPhone, navigate to ‘Settings,’ then select ‘Privacy & Security,’ ‘Location Services,’ ‘System Services,’ and finally ‘Significant Locations.’ Here, you can clear this list and prevent it from populating in the future.

Controlling Location Tracking on Desktop Computers

Desktop computers and laptops, unlike mobile devices, typically don’t come with GPS capabilities. So, they don’t track your location in the same way as your phone. However, applications, websites, and even the operating system can still have a general idea of your location, primarily based on the locations from which you access the internet.

On Windows, you can manage your location settings by opening ‘Settings,’ then selecting ‘Privacy & Security’ and ‘Location.’ Just like on Android and iOS, you can turn off location tracking for individual applications or disable it for the entire computer. This screen also lets you see which apps have been using your location and allows you to erase the log of your travels.

On macOS, the process is slightly different. You need to click the Apple menu and select ‘System Settings,’ ‘Privacy & Security,’ and ‘Location Services.’ The next screen is quite similar to the Windows one, with toggle switches for individual applications and for macOS itself. If you want to clear the list of “significant locations” Apple has saved for you, just like on iOS, you can do so from this screen.

Managing Browser Location Tracking

If location tracking is enabled on your computer and your preferred browser, individual websites like Facebook, Amazon, or Google Search can also determine your location. While this can be useful for providing accurate weather forecasts, there may be instances when you want to turn it off to maintain your privacy.

Each browser has settings for managing website access to your location. In Chrome, you can find these under ‘Privacy and Security,’ ‘Site Settings,’ and ‘Location’ in the settings pane. In Edge, you need to open settings and choose ‘Cookies and Site Permissions’ then ‘Location.’ On Safari on macOS, select ‘Websites’ and ‘Location’ once you’ve opened the settings dialog. However, changing these settings will not affect data these sites have collected in the past. To manage that, you’ll need to visit the options for the individual sites.