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Security & privacy

Popular smartphone apps are selling your location data without your knowledge

If you’re like a lot of people, you’ve probably worried for many years about other parties collecting your data as you go about your day. Maybe it’s a weird and persistent feeling that somebody’s tracking or watching you each time you see all the creepily accurate targeted ads on the web and social media.

At this point, we are all pretty much aware of the possibility that our phones have been tracking us. Whether it is the sites we visit online or where we actually go in the real world, there are certain features that keep an eye on us.

Does that weather app merely require your location so it can serve you localized reports? Well, it turns out, it may be using your location information for something more than that.

Apps may be selling your location data without your knowledge

An in-depth report from The New York Times has revealed that popular iPhone and Android apps like The Weather Channel, WeatherBug, and GasBuddy, are gathering precise user location data, including exact longitude and latitude coordinates, specific street addresses and even timestamps.

The Times used data from mobile app analytics firm MightySignal to pinpoint apps that include location tracking code. App developers can add these code packages supplied by location data firms and make money off location-based ads or by providing collected data.

As usual, this location data is sold to marketing and advertising firms, and it’s used for targeted ads. Although the data is anonymized, it still poses a privacy risk since it can still be readily linked with home and work addresses.

If you don’t remember giving any of these apps permissions to share your location data, don’t worry, you’re not alone. These apps’ reasons for requiring your location are often unclear or misleading.

For example, a weather app may ask for your location data to provide you with critical weather updates and alerts in your specific area, but it doesn’t disclose in the permission prompt that it will likewise be sold and shared with third-parties. More often than not, these data-sharing policies are buried within pages and pages of privacy policies and terms of agreements. You know how difficult and confusing these privacy policies can be, right?

Location data is big money

The main driving force in this age of targeted advertising is data – tons of it. It’s not just the smaller companies who are looking to mine your patterns and habits to sell them to marketing and research firms; the big tech companies are perhaps the bigger culprits.

Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google all make money off mobile ads, and they too need location information to power their ads. However, the tech giants say that they don’t sell data to third parties but rather use it to power their own algorithms and targeted ads. It’s a virtual arms race as the big tech firms try and collect as much user data as they can.

But in light of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica fiasco and the increased public demand for user privacy, the tech giants are also starting to keep their data collection practices in check. Google and Apple, in particular, have taken steps to limit location data collection in their respective app stores and they have revised their privacy policies and terms of services accordingly.

Hopefully, with tech leaders paving the way, the whole location data tracking industry will be closely reviewed and evaluated for any widescale privacy issues these companies may pose.

Click here to read The New York Times’ in-depth investigation.

I don’t like location tracking in apps. What should I do?

It really depends on how attached you are to the app itself. If you don’t care much for it, you can just delete it and move on with your life.

If you want to keep the app but see if you can turn off the location tracking, follow these steps:


  1. Tap on your Settings icon
  2. Scroll down until you find the app you would like to change
  3. When you find it, tap on the app to open its settings
  4. If it gives the option to change the location settings, tap on it


To check your apps’ permissions on Android, go to Settings >> Apps >> Select the app you want to check >> then tap Permissions.

Here you’ll see all the permissions that the app has (Camera, Contacts, Location, Microphone, Storage, etc.). To revoke a permission, just toggle its switch to off.

Not all apps will have that switch, and if the one in question does not, then you might need to delete it to ensure it is not tracking you and selling the data.

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