03/01/2020 nytimes.com  4 min #166876

Freaked Out? 3 Steps to Protect Your Phone

Your smartphone is one of the world's most advanced surveillance tools. This week, Times Opinion is reporting on a huge trove of location data showing the precise location movements for millions of Americans.

Once your location is shared with the companies, there's no way to delete that information or get it back. Your best bet is to avoid sharing your location in the first place - at least until the government bestirs itself to begin regulating how that information is collected, used and sold.

1

Stop sharing your location with apps

The most important thing you can do now is to disable location sharing for apps already on your phone. (Don't worry, your phone will automatically send its location to emergency responders if you dial 911.) It's easy to do this without having to open each app.

Select your device

iPhone
Android

We used a Samsung Galaxy S10 running Android 9 for these instructions; the exact steps  may vary slightly depending on your device.

To turn off location sharing, go to Settings Privacy Location Services. You can choose when to share your location for each app.

You can also prevent your phone from sharing your location in the background. To do so, go to Settings General Background App Refresh. This will not affect your ability to receive push notifications.

To turn off location sharing, go to Settings Biometrics and security App permissions Location. You can choose whether to share your location for each app.

You can also prevent your phone from sharing your location in the background. To do so, go to Settings General Background App Refresh. This will not affect your ability to receive push notifications.

Many apps that request your location, like weather, coupon or local news apps, often work just fine without it. There's no reason a weather app, for instance, needs your precise, second-by-second location to provide forecasts for your city.

Apple has recently  made it harder for companies to snoop on your whereabouts via backdoor methods like checking for nearby Bluetooth and Wi-Fi networks. Make sure your phone's operating system is updated to benefit from these safeguards.

2

Disable your mobile ad ID

Your online activity is often tied together and tracked using your mobile advertising ID, which is a unique number created by your phone and sent to advertisers and app makers.

Since location data is sent along with your ad ID, it can be tied to other data about you. You can disable this feature entirely in your privacy settings, limiting the ways companies can tie your activities together.

Go to Settings Privacy Advertising and turn on Limit Ad Tracking.

Go to Settings Google Ads and then turn on Opt out of Ads Personalization.

3

Prevent Google from storing your location

If you have a Google account, the company may already have saved a trove of location data tied to your devices. You can prevent Google from collecting this information by going to your account's  location activity controls and turning off location sharing.

4

Understand location tracking is hard to avoid

You can do only so much. Location vendors are engaged in a race to find new ways to ferret out your devices, regardless of whether you followed the steps above. Some will try to identify you using your device type, I.P. address, screen size and even volume and screen brightness, in a process called " fingerprinting."

Your mobile carrier also collects location pings while your phone is turned on, regardless of whether you followed the steps above. Telecom companies were recently caught selling that data to companies that then resold it to  bounty hunters, who used it to find phones in real time. The telecom companies have since  pledged to stop selling the data, but they still collect it.

Interested in doing more to keep your location to yourself? Try the  Privacy Pro SmartVPN app, which allows users to monitor apps and block them from additional forms of data sharing.

Real protections will come only if federal laws are passed to limit what companies can do with the data they collect. Until then, no matter what settings we choose, we're all at risk.

Stuart A. Thompson (stuart.thompsonnytimes.com) is a writer and editor in the Opinion section. Gus Wezerek (gustav.wezereknytimes.com) is a graphics editor for Opinion.

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