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Your Phone Is Tracking Your Every Movement. Here's What You Can Do About It

Travel map navigation by mobile

In a revealing New York Times expose, an investigation revealed that hundreds of apps are tracking our every move, many without asking permission or explaining what they are doing with the information. They know exactly where we are and where we have been at almost any moment in time.

It’s a broad surveillance effort, affecting over 200 million Americans, designed to gather more personal data and sell it to corporations, including advertisers, banks, insurance companies, health providers, and retailers. IBM, for example, is one of the key players in this industry. Examples in the article include apps tracking people into hospital operating rooms, school classrooms, and doctor’s offices, with each individual being tracked thousands of times per day. While many in the industry claim the information is anonymous, it doesn’t take much effort to connect a residence or office to its occupants.

While we expect to be tracked by such apps as Google Maps and Lyft, what it was revealing to learn how many other apps are doing it — apps that have no need to know our location for them to function. Tracking is simply being added to the app as a way to generate revenue.

It’s a good bet that you’re being tracked right now. When I checked my phone I found numerous apps tracking me that have no need to know where I am. They include games, news sites, credit card companies, and travel sites, with many of them doing it even when the app is not being used.

What can you do to avoid being tracked? You can turn off the tracking by these apps or reduce the amount of tracking. You have more control over iOS phones, but you can make changes to Android phones as well. Another benefit to reduced tracking is that it reduces battery usage.

Note that you can’t rely on the apps being upfront and telling you that they are tracking you unless you want to get into the detailed agreements. Even if you make the effort to read all the fine print, many don’t disclose it clearly, and when they do, they're evasive and don’t always tell you what they do with the information.

Here’s how to determine who's tracking you and how to avoid it: 

For iOS (iPhones and iPads):

Open Settings, then scroll down and select the Privacy option. Then select Location Services. You have the option of turning off all Location Services, which prevents all tracking. That way, you can turn it on only when you use an app that requires it. But many find that process to be inconvenient. Fortunately, Apple offers three options for turning on tracking for each app: “Never,” “While Using the App,” and “Always.”