Yes, it’s true – your smartphone is tracking you. But before you let panic overtake your senses, hold on a minute there. You don’t need to be tech-savvy to be able to figure out how to either stop it or limit it to an acceptable degree. While it’s true that certain companies rely on shady tactics to trick you into accepting something that’s not in your best interest or doesn’t protect your privacy the way it should, there’s a whole lot that can be done. By reading this post, you’ll gain an insight into what’s going on behind the scenes and how to protect yourself.
The Forced Agreement
This is the type of agreement that you either accept or they won’t let you use the app. It is problematic because many users accept everything without even glancing over it. You’ve likely noticed a similar thing happening on the web where you’re forced to accept the webmaster’s terms before the content pops on your screen. Depending on how they’ve set up the website, some of these annoying prompts can be circumvented by using a noscript browser extension. It works equally well both on the desktop as well as the mobile version of the browser. Be sure to turn on the incognito mode if your browser supports it for additional privacy. If you want to hide your real IP from sight to prevent the webmaster from tracking your real location, an online VPN is a lifesaver (for example, this one). Speaking of location…
Your phone knows your location regardless of how many apps you’ve installed
In fact, it doesn’t take installing a single app for your phone to know exactly where you are. But it doesn’t even matter whether you’re using an Android or an iPhone – by navigating to the right menu, location tracking can be turned off. If you own the former, head on to Settings, press Security & Location, then proceed to Location. Find the ‘Use location’ option and disable it. As for the latter, open Privacy, and head on over to Location Services. Turn them off, and you’re good to go. Also, if you’re using any kind of Google accounts (we all do to some degree), don’t forget to sign in to your accounts and disable tracking there as well.
You have the power of opting out of ads
It sounds unbelievable in today’s ad-driven world, but it’s true, at least to a certain extent. Since a good number of webmasters and developers live on ad revenue, you won’t be able to remove them completely, but at least you can get rid of the targeted ads if they annoy you for any reason. For more information, go to the Digital Advertising Alliance and let them run a scan on your device. Then, they’ll display a list of advertising partners that are displaying customized ads on your device.
Pay attention to what kind of permissions the apps request
Upon installation, any given app will ask you to give it the permissions it needs to remain functional. Whether it be the power to read through your messages, access your storage space, control your camera, etc., sometimes you’ll find these apps are asking for more than what’s reasonable. If you have reason to believe an app is trying to go overboard with this, it’s best to trust your judgment and not proceed with the installation. In fact, some of the apps are designed to make the most money off of you and drown you in ads of various sorts. Those who like to venture outside of the official app store need to be extra careful; you might end up installing ransomware that’s masquerading as a legitimate app. So yes – pay attention to app permissions.
Your voice assistant may be tracking you too
Using Siri and similar voice assistants is a matter of convenience. By issuing voice commands to search for information or launch certain apps, your smartphone is no longer a device that’s merely a central hub for communication. But there is a darker side of your trusty voice-driven companion – your voice commands can be uploaded to Google’s, Amazon’s, or Apple’s server when certain conditions are fulfilled. In other words, when you use voice commands that trigger your assistant’s response, your voice is recorded and uploaded to the server for processing. Although it’s safe to assume it’s run through appropriate anonymization algorithms, the audio recording may still be used for analyzing and serving your targeted ads. Although this is no sign to start getting paranoid, it’s definitely a reason for concern.
Now that you know what to look out for, you can reclaim some of the power and put it back in your hands. Make sure to pay attention and avoid settling on the default settings without giving it a second thought and be selective in terms of the permissions you give the apps. This should be more than enough to put you in a reasonable position of safety.