In his classic novel 1984, George Orwell famously coined the phrase “Big Brother is watching you.” Little did he know that in the 70 years since the book’s publication, that has almost literally become true.
In Orwell’s sci-fi novel, people were monitored by TVs in their homes. Today, we’re being tracked by the cellphones that we keep in our pockets. This isn’t the area of conspiracy theory. Recent reporting by the Associated Press and the New York Times have shown that app developers for smartphones are tracking everywhere you go and compiling this data.
A NYT reporter was able to purchase this data from a third-party vendor. While the data was “anonymized,” the report was able to “de-anonymize” the data to show just how much of your information is being stored by these vendors. Even apps that don’t need to know your location will still track you so that they can sell this data to others.
There are a few things you can do to make your apps and yourself more secure:
1. Turn Off Location Tracking
This should be your first and easiest step. Simply go into your settings for each app and turn off location tracking. But be warned that this may not fix the problem.
The Associated Press recently uncovered Google’s practice of tracking users even when they had not allowed location tracking on their phones, a practice that has spurred Congressional investigations into unethical data handling. You can also go to the Privacy menu under Settings to turn off all location tracking on your phone.
2. Use Location Work-Arounds
If you have location tracking enabled, it makes certain apps work smoother, such as maps and weather apps. However, it’s not necessary to have these set to location tracking. With your map app, just enter your current location instead of allowing the app to locate it for you. With weather apps, you can enter the zip code of your town and bookmark this location rather than allow the app to find you.
3. Delete Unused Apps or Even All of Them
For some, the best solution is to delete your unused apps as many of these came pre-installed and you don’t even know what they do. But they may still be tracking you and selling your personal data to other vendors. If you really don’t trust your smartphone, delete them all.
This is ultimately the only way to be completely safe short of not owning a cellphone. If that’s not practical, you can still delete the apps, reinstall them, and make sure that when they reload you do not allow location tracking as part of the service.
4. Get Active
One last way to fix this problem is to become active and put pressure on your lawmakers. In California, it is illegal to sell someone’s data to a third party without their consent.
If more states enacted this (or if it were to become a national standard), then more pressure would be put on Microsoft, Google, and Apple to limit the data collected by third party apps. It doesn’t look like these tech giants will self-regulate, so that may be the only real option.
Take steps to protect you and your data
Being concerned about your cellphone tracking your location and compiling your data does not make you paranoid. There are many legitimate concerns, especially considering recent problems with hacking and data breaches. So, by taking these steps, you can make your cellphone just a little more secure.
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