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Smartphones & gadgets

8 ways to stop your phone from tracking you

You know that your phone knows where you’re located. This is how your GPS works, how Find My Friends sees your location and why you get local ads on Facebook and Google. That location data, just like other data on your phone, is a hot commodity for internet marketers in today’s digital economy.

In fact, “targeted advertising” is one of the biggest enterprises on the web. Companies are eager to serve you ads for products you’re likely to buy, and that data helps them hit their mark. Some companies have even made this their primary business model. Tap or click here to see one shocking way Facebook tracks your data.

Thankfully, you don’t have to stand for this kind of data collection if you’re not comfortable with it. These tactics are legal because the companies behind them give users the choice to opt in or out, but not everyone knows how to change their settings.

We’ll show you how to stop your phone from tracking you. Ready to go dark? Let’s get started.

1. Tweak your phone’s location settings

You can prevent iOS and Android from tracking you, but companies don’t make it easy. The feature is buried inside your devices’ privacy settings and, by default, it records your daily routine.

Known as “Frequent Locations,” it keeps track of where you are and how long you stay there. It even knows where you live and work based on how long you’re there and the number of times you visit.

If you find this unsettling, you can turn the feature off. Here are the basic steps, but depending on your specific model and operating system, you may need to follow a different set of instructions.

Turn off location settings on Apple Devices

  1. Click “Settings.”
  2. Go to “Privacy.”
  3. Select “Location Services.”
  4. Scroll down to “System Services.”
  5. Choose “Significant Locations” to see the logged record of where you’ve been and toggle it off.

You can also clear your history here by clicking “Clear History.”

Change location settings on Android Devices

  1. Open “Settings.”
  2. Scroll down and tap “Location” or “Advanced” if you have a work profile.
  3. At the top, turn “Use location” off.
  4. To delete your device’s location cache, tap “Delete Location History” at the bottom of the screen under “Location History.”
  5. Repeat this process for each Google Account you have on your Android device.

Want to see what this tracking does? Tap or click here to read more about the “Frequent Locations” feature.

2. Limit ad tracking

Ending location tracking may sound extreme, which is why you may prefer to combat the ads themselves. Thankfully, iOS and Android provide built-in options to minimize and limit ad tracking.

These tools will not totally stop companies from tracking your phone activities, and they won’t limit the number of ads you see, but they will allow you to reset your advertising ID and unlink any targeted advertising profiles associated with your gadgets.

Here’s how to limit ad tracking on both iOS and Android:

iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch

  • Go to Settings
  • Tap “Privacy”
  • Tap “Advertising”
  • Toggle “Limit Ad Tracking” to On. You can also reset your Advertising Identifier in this section to unlink any previous data associated with your Apple ID.

Android

  • Go to “Settings”
  • Tap “Google”
  • Tap “Ads”
  • Toggle on “Opt out of ads personalization”

3. Stop Google from tracking your every move

Google services have come under fire for storing your location data – even if you’ve tweaked the privacy settings on your iPhone or Android gadgets. But to turn off Google’s location tracking for good, try these settings:

Turn off Web and App Activity:

  1. Sign in to your Google Account.
  2. Click on “Data & personalization.”
  3. Under “Activity Controls,” tap “Web & App Activity” and turn it off.

To automatically delete your activity, just scroll down to “Web & App Activity” or “YouTube History” and tap “Manage Activity.” At the top right, click the three button menu and “Keep activity for.” Modify the time frame here.

Here you can turn off the different types of data saved to your Google account. Tap or click here for more details on what Google knows about you.

Pausing Location History doesn’t completely turn off Google’s location markers; although it stops Google from adding your movements to your Timeline, location data is still being saved on your Web and App Activity.

Click here to see what your Google account’s Timeline is all about.

This fun fact is important. To prevent location markers from being saved, you have to pause your Web and App Activity toggle, too. When this feature is paused, none of your activity from your Google services will be saved on your account.

4. Use a private browser on your phone

Many computer users are familiar with private web browsers. But few know about the browsers that allow you to search the internet on a mobile device anonymously.

One such app is Mozilla’s free Firefox Focus app. This anonymous mobile web browser blocks advertising, analytics and social trackers by default. It also erases passwords and browsing history after each session. Tap or click here to learn more about Firefox Focus.

The mobile versions of Google’s Chrome And Microsoft’s Edge also have incognito and InPrivate modes you can use. Tap or click here to learn about Chrome’s incognito mode. And tap or click here to learn about Edge’s InPrivate mode.

If you don’t want a mobile browser that’s associated with the big data brokers, you can try the third-party app Dolphin browser. Alternatively, iPhone users can use the default Safari browser and access a private window for stealthy browsing. Just tap the window icon in the bottom right corner and select “Private.”

To exit this mode, follow the same steps and tap “Private” again to return to your ordinary browsing windows.

If you’re on a Samsung smartphone, you can also use the company’s Samsung Internet app. This browser has a built-in ad tracking blocker that will keep other sites from tracking your online activity. Tap or click here to learn more about Samsung’s internet browser.

If you don’t like the idea of Google recording all your search terms, alternative engines such as Yippy, DuckDuckGo and Ixquick don’t track you as aggressively. Tap or click here for the pros and cons of each one, and see if they’re a better fit for you.

5. Check your online accounts

The moment you create an account with a major company (e.g. Google, Microsoft or Facebook) you begin feeding them data about your location, personality and preferences. Their algorithms will track your every click and data will be used for targeted ads or “relevant” posts.

Thankfully, these companies — and most advertising firms — give you tools to opt out of personalized ad tracking.

For example,l Google and Microsoft have account dashboards for privacy controls and for checking what they each know about you. Tap or click here to learn more about Google’s privacy controls, and here for Microsoft’s. Google revamped its ad settings to make it easier for you to understand and limit ad tracking.

Facebook also has options for turning off behavioral tracking to keep it from following you around the web. Tap or click here to learn more about it. The company is also currently auditing its third-party apps and they’re now more accessible to view and control. Tap or click here to see how.

6. Opt out of ads

Believe it or not, you have the power to just opt out of interest-based advertising – or at least most of it. The Digital Advertising Alliance has a consumer choice page that lets you see which of its participating partners is currently using customized ads on your computer.

When you first visit the website, the Alliance will scan your computer. Once the scan is complete, you’ll be shown a list of these partners. From there, you can learn more about the practices these companies use for interest-based ads, and can opt out using “opt-out cookies” that are stored in your browser with your preferences.

It’s important to note that doing this won’t remove all the ads you see online. Advertisers just won’t be able to serve you targeted ads. Tap or click here to check out more anti-tracking tools you can try.

7. Check your virtual assistants

With the rise of virtual assistants like Siri and Google Assistant, our smartphones are no longer used strictly for calls and chats — we can now use our voices to command these gadgets; however, when you utter wake words, the audio file of your voice command is uploaded and saved to Apple, Amazon, or Google’s servers for “processing.”

Chances are, as with any other tracking information, this data is likely anonymized and run through algorithms that look for behaviors and patterns that can be used for targeted advertising. Tap or click here to read more about our modern gadgets’ voice control technology and how to stop them from recording you.

8. Control permissions on your apps

Before you install apps, always check their permissions posted on their Google Play or Apple App Store pages. Android phones will also give you a rundown of the permission requests upon app installation. Apple apps will typically show you a permission access pop-up.

Sometimes apps ask for more information than they need. That information can then be sent to companies who might use it for advertising.

This is why checking your app permissions regularly is good practice. Not only will it give you more privacy control and stop apps from potentially spying, but it can also weed out apps that are continually running in the background. Fortunately, checking app permissions is not that hard.

One more thing you need to do: Here’s how to control your apps’ permissions on both Android and iOS.

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