Smartphones may be smarter than you realize. In fact, many of them use tracking features to gather detailed location information about their users. While Apple’s service explains that it’s only there to “provide useful location-related information” for its users, some worry that if the data fell into the wrong hands, it could give fraudsters enough information to commit identity theft.
What these services are tracking
According to Apple, the information from the “Frequent Locations” service is only kept on the device and cannot be sent back to the company without consent. On both iPhone and Android devices, users also have the option to disable the feature.
However, when the tracking maps first appeared, not many consumers knew what they were or that they were even on their phones, much less how to disable them. Despite the assurance that the information is only kept on the device, that doesn’t mean it can’t be misused if the phone is stolen.
“If someone lost their cell phone and a person was able to get that they would be able to know where you live, what time you are there, look through this history and know your habits, when you’re at work,” data security expert Tyler Wildman told USA Today.
Wildman had asked volunteers on the street to show him their phones, and none of them knew how much personal data their devices could collect. Wildman showed them how their phones could not only track where they’d been, but also how frequently and at what times.
Even more concerning was that the map could show precise locations down to the exact address. On iPhones, the service even labels which location is “home” and “work,” giving thieves access to important information about the user.
Because users usually keep their phones on their person at all times, these location tracking services can gather a considerable amount of data on one person.
How to disable the feature on your phone
Luckily, now that more people are aware of these features, users can disable them. According to WIRED magazine, iPhone users can follow these directions to turn off the “Frequent Locations” feature:
First go to Settings, then go to Privacy and find Location Services. From there, select System Services. There will be a list of options, all with toggles to turn on and off. Go to the bottom and find Frequent Locations. Clicking on it will take you to another page that will give you the option to turn off the service, as well as your location history. First, click “clear history,” then turn the location service off.
According to USA Today, Android users can turn theirs off by following these directions, which are fairly similar to that of Apple users:
Go to settings then location. In locations, find the “location services” section and click on your Google Location History. Deselect the check mark next to “on” then clear your location history.
If you’re still concerned about the privacy of your information, make sure your phone is secure with a strong password. You can also invest in a service like Identity Guard which can monitor different data points and alert you to certain activity that may indicate fraud. This way, even if something happens to your phone, you know you’re taking steps to protect your personal information.