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Security & privacy

Privacy warning: Researchers find location trackers in 450 apps

There’s a tradeoff when using apps on your phone or smart devices. While apps can help streamline daily tasks, keep track of finances, entertain you or your kids or help you keep in constant communication with friends and family, they can also have some downsides.

One of the main issues that can come up with the apps on your phone is tracking. Whether it’s a game app or a shopping app, they often ask for permission to track your location. But do you really want apps to have that much information on you? Here are 5 ways to limit your phone’s location tracking.

Things can get even hairier when the apps you’re using track you and you’re not aware of it. Researchers found this issue with about 450 popular apps recently. Here’s what the apps are and how you should handle them.

Here’s the backstory

ExpressVPN just released new research that highlights how smartphone apps are being used to track users all over the world. According to the report, ExpressVPN Digital Security Lab identified location tracker SDKs in 450 different apps.

The apps found to have location trackers include everything from popular dating apps to shopping and travel apps. Data the apps are gathering is as varied as the type of apps using this tech. In total, these apps have been downloaded at least 1.7 billion times, meaning there are a lot of users out there with these apps on their phones.

Some of the most common app categories include:

  • Messaging
  • Travel
  • Shopping
  • Dating
  • Health & Fitness
  • Weather
  • Social
  • Streaming

To be clear, it’s not uncommon for apps to track your location for legitimate reasons. For example, a popular travel or restaurant app might be using your location information to offer suggestions on local fare or shopping. Or, it could be health and fitness apps that are building behavioral profiles mapped to your movements.

It’s not uncommon for dating apps to track your location, either. After all, most dating apps are built to connect you with local singles who match your profile, and your location information is necessary for this to work correctly. But not all of the apps that track you are as transparent as they should be about tracking methods, which can be extremely problematic.

Unlike dating apps, messaging apps generally don’t need information on your location to work correctly and are one of the most common carriers of location trackers. Researchers with Digital Security Lab found trackers present in 42 different messenger apps, which had at least 187 million downloads.

How does this issue affect you?

The fact that apps are being used to track you isn’t ideal. It can threaten your privacy and autonomy to have apps tracking your information and location — especially without your explicit consent.

Even more troubling? The companies behind these location trackers are also often sharing data with law enforcement, the military and intelligence organizations.

And, there’s a good chance you have at least a couple of these apps on your phone right now. There are a ton of popular apps on the list, including:

  • WT ForecastPro
  • Facebook Messenger
  • WeChat
  • Marvel Official
  • Swagbucks
  • Safari Browser
  • NOAA Weather Radar Live & Alerts
  • FEM – Free Lesbian Dating App. Chat & Meet Singles
  • Latin Mingle
  • Tapatalk
  • CamStream – Live Camera Streaming
  • USA Today
  • Bitcoin Ticker Widget

You can find the complete list of apps by tapping or clicking here.

What to do about these types of apps

If you’re using a few of these apps, the good news is that you don’t need to delete them immediately. However, you should be aware of their tracking features and control the data being shared from you to the app.

You can do this by limiting the app’s location permissions. This will help protect your privacy and cut down on the tracking via your device.

To change the app location permissions on Android:

  1. On your phone, open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Apps & notifications.
  3. Tap the app you want to change. If you can’t find it, tap See all apps or App info.
  4. Tap Permissions. If you allowed or denied any permissions for the app, you’ll find them here.
  5. To change a permission setting, tap it, then choose Allow or Deny.

To change the app location permissions on iPhone:

  1. Open the Settings menu on your iPhone.
  2. Scroll to Privacy > Location Services.
  3. Scroll through your list of apps and select each one that you want to change individually. Tap each app and under Allow Location Access, select Never.

The bottom line

There are legitimate reasons for apps to track your location, but not all apps need this information to function correctly. If you’re concerned about tracking via your phone, check out the list of apps found to have location trackers and take steps to prevent this from happening. It will help keep you and your information safe online.

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