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Location services is, at the same time, one of the best and one of the worst features of a smartphone. Here, we take a look at the good and the bad of your phone allowing you to be continually tracked. And, assuming you don’t want Google and Apple knowing your every move, what can you do about it?
All That’s Good About Location Services
For a start, any navigation, map, weather, local area search app and many more need it. If you need a Thai restaurant within walking distance, Google or a similar app will get you there quickly and easily. Without location services being switched on, you’ll be asking passers by, just like the old days. If you need groceries, but have a tendency to forget to get them from the store, location service will help there, too. All you need to do is set up a reminder for the list of groceries you need and set a location. When you are near that location, your phone will remind you what you need.
You can keep an eye on where your kids are, or if someone doesn’t arrive where they should be, it is possible to track their movements if the need arises.You can even track your own movements on any given day, should that ever be useful.
It’s a very useful feature with a ton of ways to use it.
Perversely, all that makes location services great also make it terrible, depending on your viewpoint.
You will, by having location services enabled, be giving full information about your entire lifestyle habits to companies which make money from using and selling information. Google and Apple will know where you’ve been, what route you took, and how long you were there. If you tag your location on social media, the world will know when you’re not home.
But that’s not all. This isn’t temporary, disposable information, they can – and do – keep it forever unless you tell them otherwise. By being signed in to your phone, they also know your email address. They know your internet provider and, perhaps most worryingly of all, they know where you live and work.
Simply by having location services enabled, Google and Apple know more about you than even your own family.
Can You Manage Without It?
Well, you can, but you probably won’t. Without location services, a lot of what you do on your smartphone becomes unusable. However, if you absolutely don’t want to be tracked 24 hours a day, you don’t need to be.
In the early days of smartphone GPS and location services, it tended to be either on or off. Now, though, you have many more options on how it is used. It doesn’t stop you being tracked by Google and Apple themselves, if you do enable it, but you can restrict how much it does.
Enabling Location Services
If you have an Android phone or tablet, when you set it up on the first boot, it will ask if you want to enable location services. If you do, you can change your mind later by doing the steps below. Unfortunately, Android offers no way to allocate location services by app. Instead, it relies on the app asking permission and you either accepting or declining it. A good example of this is social media apps, who like to show where you are. If you do not want this, you can simply decline to give permission when they ask.
- Go to Settings
- Scroll down and find “Location”. Tap to enter the main location settings
- Scroll down to the “Location Services” section and tap “Google Location History”
- There should be a button at the bottom of the screen called “Manage Timeline” or similar. Tap this. If it is not there, open the menu via the 3 dots at the top right of the screen and select “View/Manage”
- Once you are in your Timeline, it will show you the current day’s movements. Enter the menu by tapping the 3 dots at the top right
- Tap “Settings” in the menu
- Scroll all the way to the bottom and you will find 2 options. One is to “Delete All Location History”. Tap this to produce a confirmation dialogue. Tick the box and click “Delete”
- The other option is “Delete Location History Range”. This allows you to delete the history for a set time range, instead of deleting everything.
Once you have deleted the history, it is no longer available to either you or Google. To then turn off Location and Location History altogether, these options are just above the delete options as mentioned above. Tap either of them and toggle the slider switch at the top of the page that loads.
Note: Because Google allow manufacturers to adapt Android to suit their own purposes, some of the steps above may differ slightly on your device. A little common sense should see you through, though.
You can also delete your history on a desktop computer.
Simply log in to Google and go to your account. On the main page, look for “My Activity” and click the “Go to my activity” link. In the left hand column, you will have similar options to that mentioned above. Click the “Activity Controls” link and you can enable/disable location services and history.
iOS also asks you, on setup, if you want to enable location services. Assuming you have done so, the steps here will show you how to reverse it. The big advantage iOS has over Android is that you can set location services on or off by app, in the main iOS settings. This allows you to be a lot more selective on which apps can track you. It doesn’t stop Apple getting the information, even from 3rd party apps, however. Depending on your choices, it may collect more or less information.
- Open Settings.
- Scroll down to “Privacy” and open “Location Services”.
- Turn off location services altogether with the toggle switch at the top. Alternatively, scroll down and toggle the switch against each app, as you see fit.
Apple do get a bit sneaky here, because just turning off some apps doesn’t stop Apple collecting other data from you. You will also need to turn off the iOS-specific features –
- In the “Location Services” settings, select “System Services.
- Turn on or off, anything from the list as required. Whether each is important is entirely up to you. You don’t technically need any of them to use your phone.
Note: The above steps are for any iPhone running iOS 8 or later. For smartphones running versions prior to iOS 8, the steps are actually quite similar, but without the same level of control. Like with Android, common sense should make the process reasonably simple.
It’s up to you. Yes, it can feel intrusive and even a little like big brother, but there’s no denying its usefulness. Given the potentially life-saving possibilities location services brings, we’d be inclined to leave it on. Also, lots of apps are much better with it than without. Location services, primarily because of GPS, is very resource hungry. If you use a navigation app, unless you have constant power, you will be lucky to get much more than a couple of hours out of a full charge. Most apps are short-term use, of course, but it’s still a consideration.
If you do decide you don’t want or need location services, the above should be all you need to change the settings quickly. Depending on the app, you may also be able to change the use of location services in its settings. This is useful if you have an Android device where control in the main settings isn’t quite so comprehensive.
You should probably know, in case you were wondering, turning off location services doesn’t let you hide from the police. Your location is still trackable just by passing cell towers as your smartphone essentially logs on and off the network.