How Location Tracking Works on Smartphones

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location tracking

As the recent report shows Google’s background tracking of your location, it’s not as easy as it looks like, tech companies and devices are tracking your location and when they’re not. Here’s everything you need to know how they track someone’s phone location—and how to disable it.

Location information is one of the key factors of data any company can get on you, whether they want to personalize your weather forecast or serve up an ad. As a result app and mobile OS are very hard to mine that data of you. It’s a compromise though, and if you don’t want to give your personal details away, you’ll have to live without location-based services. Do you want convenience or privacy? That is a hard question and even a hard choice to make.


Location tracking by gadget

If you don’t want your phone to report back your position to any app or company, then you need to close off the master location setting. It basically stops your phone from knowing where it is, which uses cell towers and GPS signals to locate.

On Android devices, go to Settings then tap Security & location, then Location, then turn the Use location switch to Off. If you’re using an iPhone, open up Settings, then tap Privacy and Location Services and toggle the Location Services switch to Off. Now your phone won’t know where you are just like your mom.

This means you won’t be able to know where you actually are on the map apps and you can’t look for coffee shops in your local area, or find your gadget if it gets lost; it also stops Google from aggregating data to tell Google Maps users which road is facing a traffic jam, for example. Both Android and iOS come with more information on the menu screens themselves so you know what you’re getting yourself into and out of the information age.

There is one condition where your location is still shared on both Android and iOS, even you turned off location tracking: When you call emergency services. If you’re in a country like America and on a network with emergency location sharing is enabled, your phone will still report your GPS position to first responders, no matter what your setting is, which is quite helpful.


Location tracking by app

If you turn on location tracking on your phone or on a gadget, then you’re giving Google and Apple permission to that information—it’s just part of the deal of using their mobile OS with location services turned on. Even with this setting turned on though, you can block apps from using your device’s location.

You can turn them off from Settings on Android, go to Security & location, then Location, then click App-level permissions to see all the apps currently installed on your phone—turn the toggle to Off for any app you don’t want to know your current location.

And if you are in iPhone user, Head to the Settings app for iOS, tap Privacy, then Location Services to see a complete list of apps. You get more control on iOS: Apps can be allowed to access location data Always, or While Using the App, or Never. You can use the Never option to block tracking altogether, or While Using the App to block background tracking so it will use the tracking only when the app is active.

This is one type of way of making your apps identifying your location in the way revealed in the recent AP report: You can see tiny dots on the map where apps have been opened up on the device and then get a location position at the same time. Every app is not the same of course and will have its own privacy policy about what it will do with your data.

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