Today, customer information is a significant source of income and data collection for many companies. What you, the consumer, search on the Internet, what you purchase, what music you listen to, what companies you like on Facebook, and even your location history are both monitored and sold to the highest bidder. Is this a conspiracy theory or something more tangible? The answer might surprise you.
It is a proven fact that everything you do on the Internet can be viewed, archived, and used for the benefit of businesses. Credit card companies can analyze what products you like on Facebook to get a better understanding of your spending habits; this data can then be used when you apply for a credit card. Cookies stored when you visit websites fuel advertising tailored to you specifically, thus creating creepy ads that seem to read your mind. As stories regarding data breaches hit the news, the same individuals who are angry about their leaked information do not realize that most of that same content is available on their social media profiles, voluntarily added. Even your medical history has the potential to be used against you; while it may or may not actually happen as of yet, submitting your DNA to a website such as Ancenstry.com can reveal health conditions that run in your family, which a prospective employer might not want to pay for in terms of providing you health insurance.
I could go on an on with my thoughts about privacy issues, however, let me get back to the point of this post; protecting your location. How often do you get asked if you want to allow a website or application to know your location? Why do these websites and apps ask for this? Well, advertisers, hedge funds, and retailers use this information to display location-based ads (suggesting a restaurant a few miles away from you instead of one in Russia), enhance websites/apps with geographical user data (where their users/visitors are located), region-specific content (weather apps), and help facilitate more natural financial operations (changing the currency used in your particular country).
What can be done to protect your location?
Many applications have internal settings which can allow you to turn off location tracking. However, the easiest method to ensure that your location is private is to go into your device’s privacy menu. Note: disabling location tracking can prevent apps or websites, such as weather services, from operating; they use your location to give you region-specific information.
- Open Settings
- Select Privacy (Blue Icon with White Hand)
- Select Location Services (At Top, Blue Icon with White Arrow)
- From the List of Apps, Select the App you Wish to Adjust
- Selecting ‘Never’ will Always Block Tracking
- Selecting ‘While Using the App’ will Only Allow Tracking During App Use, not Always
- If you wish to disable location tracking for all apps completely, select the ‘Location Services’ and change it to ‘Off’
Android (Recent Devices)
- Navigate to the Settings Menu
- Select Location in the Privacy Section
- Select App-Level Permissions
- Similar to iOS, a List of Apps will Appear
- To Turn Off Location for an App, Slide the Toggle Left
Similar to iOS, to completely disable location services, switch off ‘Use Location.’
Internet browsers such as Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, also collect numerous types of data, including your location. If you wish to avoid having your browsing history visible to others on your computer or want to prevent a website from knowing your location, the following suggestions can benefit you greatly.
While not a reliable manner of private browsing (nothing is ever truly private on the Internet), most browsers offer a mode where your browsing history, cookies, and site/form data aren’t saved. Like previously mentioned, your activity is not hidden from your school/employer, the website you visit, or your ISP (Internet Service Provider).
I am not going to go into detail on how to do this using all available internet browsers. However, I will discuss Google Chrome’s Incognito Mode. For more information for your specific browser, a simple Google Search will suffice.
Google Chrome’s Incognito Mode
- On your Computer, Open Chrome
- At the Top Right, Click More, then New Incognito Window
- A New Window will Appear, with an Incognito Icon in the Top Corner
Disable Location Tracking
Apart from using Google Chrome’s Incognito Mode, you can also block Chrome from sending your location info to websites, while not using Incognito Mode. While many sites will ask you upon entering if you wish to opt for location services, this method will disable the feature entirely. Again, I will only be discussing Chrome. However, methods exist for all major browsers.
- Open Chrome
- Select the Menu Icon at the Top Right of your Screen (3 dots) or press Alt + F
- Scroll Down to the Bottom and Select ‘Show Advanced Settings’
- Click ‘Content Settings’
- Scroll Down to the Location Section
- Enable, ‘Do Not Allow Any Site to Track your Physical Location’
- Close the Settings Tab
While it is almost impossible to eliminate location tracking on the internet, you can certainly make it harder for websites and applications to access the information. I hope these tips help you in your quest for privacy in the digital world.