Verizon made security news last week with the announcement that the company will no longer sell user location information to third-party brokers. Major carriers AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile soon released their own similar promises.
Unfortunately, the announcement sounds better than it actually is. No company has made the pledge to stop the sale of location information completely. It’s possible they’ll just cut out the middleman companies and proceed with similar practices. This means the location of mobile phones could continue to be sold, largely without user knowledge.
While at the current moment, average mobile phone owners have little control over these kind of sales, there are certain location services on popular applications and sites that are somewhat within user control. For example, many platforms allow you to choose whether or not you’d like to enable location services or add your current location to posts you share with social media followers.
From a security standpoint, the less identifying information you make publicly available about yourself the better. When location information is unprotected, it makes it all the easier to track where you are at different days and times, and for advertisers or companies to target you based on your geographical whereabouts.
While we wait for regulations regarding data selling to catch up to the privacy protections many mobile and internet users desire, we can at least take advantage of any available options to reduce location tracking and sharing. Here’s how to limit location details on some of your favorite platforms.
Twitter gives you the option to tweet with a location. To make sure this option is not enabled, first click your photo icon and head to Settings. Then click the “Privacy and safety tab” on the left. The second item on the page is called “Tweet location.” To remove location from tweets, uncheck the box next to “Tweet with a location.”
You also have the option to further increase your privacy by removing location information attached to previous tweets. To do this, look underneath the “Tweet with a location” option and click the button titled “Delete location information.”
Instagram gives users a couple different ways to incorporate location services into their experience. The first you’re likely familiar with: the option to add location to individual posts. Opting out of this one is simple: just don’t click the Add Location option underneath your photo before sharing.
Instagram also has general location access services you can choose whether or not to permit. The app says they use this information to “make some features work, personalize content, help people find places and more.” iPhone users can make sure these services are disabled by heading to their general phone Settings, and then scrolling down to the Privacy tab. Then click Location Services. From there, you can scroll down to instagram and choose the Never option under “Allow Location Access.”
Facebook similarly has options to engage with location both on a post-to-post basis and with general enabling of location services on your phone.
To keep location separate from individual posts, opt out of clicking the location icon before sharing your content.
To turn off phone location services for your iOS device, again, head to your iOS Settings. Click Location Services, scroll down to Facebook and select “Never” under Allow Location Access.
For Android devices, head to Settings, then Apps. Click the gear icon, then Click App Permissions and then Location. Find Facebook and tap the Toggle to off.
Google uses location history to target results and “recommendations on Google products.” You do have options, however, to disable these services.
The first option Google provides is to stop storing your past locations. To do this, open your Google account and and head to Activity Controls. Scroll down to Location History and make sure the Toggle option is off.
You can also delete individual locations or your full location history. Head to Activity Controls, scroll down to Location History and click Manage Activity. You can choose the Delete option next to individual dates or select the option to remove specific locations. To delete your comprehensive location history, click Settings and then “Delete all location history.”
We have a long way to go before user location services are truly protected from large companies. As the continued breaches and personal data scandals show, there’s plenty of work to be done. It is almost impossible to use a mobile device or internet platform without a good deal of safety and data risk. In the meantime, we can at least take advantage of whatever user security options are available. When it comes to location protection, disabling location services and opting out of attaching locations to posts are good first steps.