How To Disable Location History On Android And Ios To Protect Your Privacy
In the modern world, going off the grid is practically impossible to do. Every facet of daily life, from work to entertainment to shopping, requires the internet. Gone are the days when one family shared a single computer with a dial-up modem. Now people of all ages have multiple devices ranging from laptops to smartphones.
As a result of the internet revolution, privacy and security have become a topic of great concern. It seems like every day a new website is reporting that they have suffered a hack or data breach that resulted in sensitive user data being stolen or corrupted. To make matters worse, companies and governments are building surveillance tools into their products and applications. Even if these tools are designed in the best interest of users, they still represent a loss of privacy.
In this article, we'll look in depth at one area of digital security: the question of how mobile devices track and store your geographic location data. We'll also provide steps for how to disable and delete your location history on both Android and iOS devices.
How To Disable Location History On Android And iOS To Protect Your Privacy
Location Tracking on Mobile Devices
When the first wave of smartphones first landed on the market in the mid-2000's, they were filled with numerous new features that would change the landscape of the computing world. For the first ever, people could carry the internet in their pocket and connect to websites from anywhere in the world. They no longer had to be tethered to a computer with a modem or wi-fi connection.
In addition to supporting cellular connectivity, this first generation of smartphones also included a global positioning system (GPS) chip within their hardware. Developers quickly understood the mass appeal of such a feature and built mapping applications that could pinpoint a person's geographic location by longitude and latitude. With the power of coding, that location could be transferred onto a digital map. This spawned the earliest versions of Google Maps and Mapquest apps that offered driving or walking directions right from a smartphone.
Since that time, GPS has become a pivotal part of all internet-capable mobile devices. Many people rely on it to help them get around by car, public transit, or on foot. Web and app developers have looked for new ways to integrate location services into their code. For example, now when you snap a photo from your smartphone, it will log the coordinates of where you took it so you can organize your albums based on location. Restaurant review applications also use GPS to help you quickly find places close to you.
Controversy About Location History
As mentioned, smartphone operating systems offer GPS services to third-party applications for a variety of purposes. The intent is to allow the software to identify the user's current location at a point in time. What many people don't realize is that both the Google Android and Apple iOS platforms are designed to store historical data from GPS inputs.
Essentially what this means is that your phone can trace everywhere you travel and keep that information in its memory. GPS even works in many locations where normal cellular reception is unavailable. And because your phone or tablet is so often connected to the web, there is a risk that the phone manufacturers could be keeping copies of that location history data on their own servers. Even worse, imagine a hacker compromising your device and using stolen data to spy on your movements.
As part of the fallout from this controversy, both Google and Apple went to lengths to clarify their policy on location history tracking and make it possible for device owners to wipe that data manually. We'll now dive into that process for both mobile operating systems.
Disabling Location History on Android
For Android users, location history data is stored at the level of your Google account. This means that any device that is signed into your Google account can read from or add to your GPS historical information. Currently, location tracking is turned off by default for all new Google accounts and can only be activated by the account owner. If the option is turned on for your account, follow these steps to disable it and delete the history.
- 1. Turn on your Android tablet and launch the "Settings" application. This is usually represented by the gear icon on your homescreen.
- 2. Look for the "Google" section of the settings list and then click on the "Google Account" option. On this screen, you will see various information about the Google account currently signed into your phone. In addition to location tracking, your account is used to synchronize email, calendar, and other data between your Android devices and the web.
- 3. Tap on the "Data & personalization" button near the top of the screen to view advanced settings for how your Google account is managed.
- 4. Scroll to the "Activity controls" section of the screen and then tap on the "Location History" row. This will display basic information about what kind of location data your Google account is tracking.
- 5. Click on the "Manage setting" link to view your current location history setting and make changes. On the next screen, you'll see a list of all devices connected to your Google account and a slider bar next to each. In addition, there will be a master slider button at the top of the screen to represent your overall account setting.
- 6. Use the slider buttons to toggle the location history setting. To disable it for all accounts, simply slide the button at the top of the screen to the "Off" position. Alternatively, you can toggle the slider bar for each device individually. Be aware that if you leave the main slider in the "On" position, any new device registered to your Google account will automatically have location history tracking enabled.
- 7. Click on the "Manage Timeline" button at the bottom of the screen if you want to take the next step and actually delete all location history that is currently stored on your Google account. Doing the disabling steps above will only prevent future location tracking. Previous data will remain in your account.
- 8. Wait for the Google Maps application to open and then click on the three-dot icon and choose the "Settings" option.
- 9. Scroll down to the very bottom of the settings list and tap on one of the deletion options. You can either choose to delete all location history data or else select a range of dates for which to remove.
Disabling Location History on iOS
Like Google, Apple allows for iPhone and iPad devices to store GPS historical data about a user to provide recommendations and relevant information in the future. The setting is actually turned on by default for all new iOS devices, but the steps below will help you to disable it and delete the entire history log.
- 1. Go to your iPhone or iPad's homescreen and launch the "Settings" app.
- 2. Scroll down through the list of settings and choose the "Privacy" row.
- 4. Scroll down to the bottom of the application list and tap on the "System Services" row.
- 5. Tap on the setting item labeled "Significant Locations." For some older versions of iOS, this may be labeled as "Frequent Location" instead. In either case, you will be prompted to enter your device passcode or else use your fingerprint or facial recognition to authenticate yourself. After that, the screen will display a list of all recent GPS locations that your phone has logged.
- 6. Look for the green slider bar at the top of the screen and move it to the "Off" position to disable future location history tracking.
- 7. Scroll down to the very bottom of the location list and tap the "Clear History" button to remove all historical data.
Other Ways to Protect Yourself
After disabling location tracking and deleting your GPS historical data, it's worthwhile to take an extra moment and review the related settings on your smartphone or tablet. In general, you only want your device to be capturing your GPS coordinates when it is absolutely necessary.
Both the Android and iOS operating systems allow you to specify privacy settings on a per-app basis when it comes to location services. This means you can block certain apps from accessing your location while others still can. One option now available is to restrict apps to only use your location data while the app is actually opened. Most cybersecurity experts consider this to be the safest option, as it guarantees that apps will not be able to monitor your geographic movement unless you are actively using them on-screen.
Data privacy needs to be taken seriously, especially these days when we are all carrying around internet devices in our pockets. GPS support allows for mobile apps to provide real-time information about the area around us, but allowing companies to log and store that data can be risky.
As a best practice, it's smart to disable location history tracking on your Android and iOS devices. While doing so, you will have the option to delete any data that has been previously stored on your device or account. This way, you can continue using GPS services within apps without having to worry about hackers, third parties, or governments spying on your every move.