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The Pillars Of Location Tracking: How Your Phone Is Tracked Without Your Permission

It is now a well-established fact that your location is being tracked by tech companies. However, location tracking is not quite as simple as getting your coordinates from your GPS chip. It can be, but tech companies can do much more than that by tying together many bits and pieces of data that they gather from third parties and your phone’s features.

Shared Location Data

If you grant app A the location permission but not app B, app A might share your location data with app B later on if they both have data that can confirm which account is yours. This kind of problem is augmented by reusing your email address across many websites or services. Your email is tied to your identity if you use it to sign up for a service that identifies you or demands excessive amounts of personal information that could be used to identify you.

Partial Solution: For those services, create/use an email address that you don’t use for anything else.

Fragments Of Location Data

Your ISP

Your ISP knows where you live, and your IP address reveals your ISP’s location (which is your state and city). Ads, geoblockers and other things serve you content (or restrict you) based on your ISP’s location.

Partial Solution (to hide your ISP’s location from websites): Use Tor or a VPN to obscure your IP address.

Your Mobile Carrier

Your mobile carrier can track your current location as you roam, based on your position relative to their cellular towers. This isn’t the most accurate tracking method, as it only provides a general idea of the region you’re in. Not your precise location.

Solution: Turn off cellular or turn on ‘aeroplane mode’/’flight mode’.

GPS Coordinates/Your Precise Movements

Apps track your precise location using GPS if it is turned on.

Solution: If an app really needs the location permission, then set it to allow location access only if you are using the app (this option is not available on older Android devices). Turn off location access and only turn it back on if necessary.

I wrote a guide showing how to set various Android permissions with demonstration videos. Also, your location history is store: Clear out/opt out of the various tracking and data collection setting (when you see the sheer number of buried privacy settings, you’ll be more comfortable simply leaving GPS turned off because it is easier).

Nearby Device Scanning

A feature common on modern phones — nearby device scanning enables your location to be ascertained via Bluetooth beacons.

Solution: Turn off both ‘nearby device scanning’ and Bluetooth.

Checking Into Places And KYC

Some social networks allow you to ‘check into places’ on the go, which obviously reveals where you go. However, this data might be shared with third parties whom you don’t want to access it. Uploading photo IDs for KYC requirements may reveal where you live, as well as information which can be used to steal your identity.

KYC is normally used for financial services such as banks and exchanges. Social networks and other services that don’t need to are becoming increasingly aggressive in their demands for KYC data.

Solution: Avoid any service outside the financial ones mentioned that demands photo IDs, your home address, phone number, your social security number, or any other sensitive information that can be used to steal your identity.

Most people aren’t very concerned about most of the data collected above because it is primarily done by companies they know and trust. However, the frequently careless handling of your data by (almost) all of those companies often goes unnoticed, and it sometimes results in your sensitive information being stolen by hackers. The largest tech companies have experienced such breaches.

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