Privacy Controls: Part 3: Your Mobile. What is App Tracking and How You Control It (both Android and iPhone)

mobile tracking
By Ben Hartwig
04 October, 2018

Many people don’t even realize that their cell phones and apps are constantly collecting data about their whereabouts and their online activities. A mobile phone can be a great asset, like having a mini computer in your pocket but just how much of your usage is being tracked and what can you do about it?

What is App Tracking?

Along with the GPS sensor and other built-in tracking hardware on your mobile phone, the apps you use also collect data about you. Depending on what permissions you allowed the app, that information can be stored on your phone or sent back to the app company.

Should I be Worried About It and What About My Privacy?

You might be shocked at the things that cell phone apps track. For instance, your entire voice command history, every web search, text messages, and all the YouTube videos you ever watched; along with your GPS location of where you were throughout the day, every day. A lot of people would be very uncomfortable if they knew how much information these app companies had on them. Mobile phone providers and app companies claim they need to collect this information to improve your user experience. It comes down to privacy and what you are comfortable with or not.

If this information has your skin crawling, then read on to learn how to take control back and limit what information can be tracked about you from your cell phone.

What Information Can Apps Access and How Can I Control It?

When you install an app, you are usually prompted to give permission to access specific areas of the phone such as GPS, microphone, photos, videos, camera, notifications, and contacts.

You probably just clicked ok to end the install and start using your new app. But what you don’t realize is that the app now has access to all your personal stuff. You can see where this is headed. The app has a lot of data available to it, and you need to know how to turn those settings off or limit them, so you don’t leak information about your every move to everyone.

How to Control App Tracking

On your Android device, go into Settings and then choose Apps & Notifications. In there you can see what apps have access to which parts of your phone. Select each app individually and choose Permissions. Here you can turn them on or off based on your comfort level.

On an IOS device, go into Settings and then go into each app to see what permissions they use. You can turn them off or choose to limit the access only during the use of that specific app.

On both platforms, you can turn off web browsing history in the browser app.

However, that is only part of the puzzle. To find out exactly what data is being collected and transmitted and how it’s being used, you will need to read the privacy policy for each app. Google is beefing up its requirements for all Android app developers, to provide clear, detailed privacy policies for apps available in the Google Play store.

Common Apps that Track You and Your Data

We all know about the Facebook debacle, which prompted a slew of privacy policy updates from everyone. However, Facebook still collects and retains a lot of information about you. You can download a copy of it to your computer. You might be shocked at how much detail is in there.

Other popular apps that track your usage, photos, voice commands, camera, etc. are Messenger, Uber, Shazam, Airbnb, and Snapchat. Some data collected is stored only on your phone and anonymized such as Face ID and GPS on IOS. However, the Android platform is more open-source and not all apps care about your privacy so they won’t take the time to conceal your data. Another factor to consider is that due to geocoding on photos if an app has access to photos they can also track your locations. This is scary stuff, so be forewarned and do what you can to close those holes.

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