You probably have seen this report on Fox News where they show how Google tracked them around town. They used two phones, one in airplane mode and one not, and then drove around town. Once they finished they looked at the data on the phone and showed us how it tracked their route. I’m going to explain what’s actually going on with this and answer the question: Is Google Tracking Me?
What is Airplane Mode?
Airplane mode is a convenient way to disable WiFi, Bluetooth, and your mobile network. Think of it as disabling any outbound signals from your phone. That’s all it does. It’s not Privacy Mode.
Location services include a number of methods that your phone uses to figure out where you are. The most obvious of which, and the most accurate is GPS. Cell tower locations are known, so if your phone connects to one it knows you are within a certain distance of that tower. They even use WiFi hotspots to help find your location. When you combine all these methods you get a very accurate location that works even when the GPS signal is blocked.
How were they tracked?
The phone in airplane mode still had its GPS on. The other phone had everything on. In the report, they mentioned that they removed the SIM card. It’s important to know that this has nothing to do with what they tested. The SIM card is used to assign services to the phone. That services I mean are a phone number, voice calling, mobile data, etc. Outside of these services, the phone still works without a SIM card. That’s everything, including Location Services. It’s really this simple of an explanation.
Can I turn this off?
Of course, but some apps won’t work well without it.
This varies slightly based on the version you have, but the good news is that you really only need to turn off Location History. First, open Settings. Select the next option called Location or Security & Location. If it’s the latter, choose Location from there. Scroll to the bottom of that screen and select Location History. Just turn it off and it’s done recording that information. However, that doesn’t delete your already saved history. You need to go into Manage Timeline to delete that.
You can leave Location Services on so that your apps work correctly. It’s possible to fine turn that so only the apps you want to know your location. Go back to the Location screen and look for App-level permissions. Turn off permissions for apps that don’t need it.
Open Settings, go to Location Services and then System Services. From there, turn off what you don’t need.
Is Google Tracking Me?
Yes, they collect data on where you go. It’s used to serve up ads relevant to your location, but that’s not the only reason. Some apps really work better when they know where you are and some completely rely on your location. For example, Waze is useless if it doesn’t know where you are.
The important thing you need to know is that you’re in control of how they use your location data and if it’s saved at all. If you don’t trust an app, turn off its access to your location or turn off Location Services altogether.