How to Make Sure You’re Not Accidentally Sharing Your Location
Your devices and apps really, really want to know where you are—whether it’s to tell you the weather, recommend some restaurants you might like, or better target ads to you. Managing what you share and what you don’t share, and when, can quickly become confusing.
It’s also possible that you have inconsistencies in the different location histories recorded by your devices: times when you thought you turned off and blocked location sharing, but you’re still being tracked, or vice versa.
Here, we’ll cover everything you need to consider when it comes to location tracking, hopefully simplifying it along the way. Whether you want to allow access to your current location or not, you should be in control of these settings and not be caught off guard by additional options you’ve missed.
How Location Tracking Google Gets Confusing by David Nield
You can turn off Google Location History, but that’s just the beginning.
What happens when you distinctly remember turning off location tracking on a device, but your position still shows up on a map? Or maybe you thought you left the feature on, but you’re seeing gaps in your location history? There are a few explanations, but essentially you need to remember all the different ways your location can be recorded: through your devices, through your apps, and through websites you visit.
For example, you might have disabled location tracking on a phone but left it enabled on a tablet. Alternatively, you may have a laptop that tracks where you are in the background, even though you thought you disabled the feature in the programs you use. If you want to have location tracking completely enabled or disabled, you need to consider all these different ways to keep track of where you are.
If you have a Google account, this is a good illustration. Go to your account settings on the web, then select Data & Privacy and Location History. Select Devices on this account, which may reveal some phones, tablets, and laptops you’ve forgotten about—any device with a check next to it in this list saves your movements to your Google Account for future reference.
You can click Turn Off to disable it, but note the warnings listed in the confirmation box that appears on the screen: Your location may still be recorded by your mobile devices, through the Find My Device service that helps you to recover lost hardware, and by Google Maps when you navigate or search around the area you are in. This Location History setting is more of an overall toggle, affecting features like the Google Timeline and the ability to quickly look up places you visit frequently.
From the main Google Account screen, there are several more places where your location is recorded and shared: To manage location data stored by Google Maps and other apps and websites, click Data and Privacy then Web and App Activity, then click People and then Share Manage Location Sharing to see a list of specific contacts who can see your location through various Google services.
Managing Location Tracking on Mobile Android via David Nield
You can control location tracking for individual apps and devices as a whole.
The steps to manage your location on Android vary slightly depending on the manufacturer of your phone, but the menus and instructions involved are generally the same. On Google Pixel devices, you can open Settings and then select Location: You’ll see the Use Location toggle, and if you turn it off, none of your apps will be able to know where you are, and neither will Google.
If you leave the Use location toggle on, you can customize location access for individual apps further down on the same screen. Note that you can choose to allow apps to know where you are at all times, or only when the app in question is running in the foreground—tap any app in the list to make changes.
On iOS, it’s a similar setup. If you choose Privacy & security in Settings and then tap Location Services, you can turn off location tracking for the phone and all the apps on it. If you choose to leave it enabled, you can manage individual app access to your location via the list below. As on Android, you can choose to restrict apps from knowing your location only when the specific app itself is running, or allow them to monitor it in the background as well.
Deleting the location data collected about you is a complex process, as you need to check the records and the settings of every app that has ever accessed your location. For Google and Google’s apps, you can go to your Google Account on the web and then select either Location History or Web & App Activity under Data & Privacy to clear this data from the record. You will also find options to delete this data automatically after 3, 18 or 36 months.
Apple doesn’t record your movements in the same way, but it does build up a list of places you visit often (like your home and maybe your office) so you can get back there quickly. To clear this list on your iPhone, open Settings and select Privacy & Security, Location Services, System Services, and Significant Locations. You can delete this list and prevent it from being populated in the future.
Managing Location Tracking on PC Windows via David Nield
You can control location tracking on Windows and its individual programs.
Your laptop or PC is unlikely to be equipped with GPS capabilities, so it won’t track your location in the same way as your phone, but apps, websites and the operating system will still have an idea where you are – mainly through the locations from which you log in to the web (for example, via your home Wi-Fi).
On Windows, you can open Settings and then select Privacy & security and location. As on Android and iOS, you’ll see that you can turn off location tracking for individual apps (via the toggles on the right) or turn it off for the entire computer (the option at the top). The same screen lets you see which apps have used your location, and lets you clear the log of your travels—click Clear next to Location History to do so.
When it comes to the same process on macOS, you need to click on the Apple menu and select System Settings, Privacy & Security, and Location Services. The next screen looks a lot like the Windows screen, with toggles for individual apps as well as for macOS itself—turn off any of the switches where you don’t want location access granted. If you click Details next to System Services on this screen, you can clear the list of “significant locations” that Apple has saved for you, just like on iOS.
If location tracking is on for your computer and your browser of choice, this means that individual websites such as Facebook, Amazon or the Google Search can also know where you are. Sometimes this is of course useful (getting the right weather forecast), but there may be times when you want to turn it off if you’re trying to keep your location private.
Each browser will have settings to manage website access to your location. In Chrome, it’s Privacy & Security, Site Settings, and Location from the settings panel; if you’re using Edge, you’ll need to open Settings and select Cookies and Site Permissions, then Location; and on Safari on macOS, select Websites and Location once you’ve opened the settings dialog. However, changing these settings will not affect data that these sites have collected in the past – you will need to visit the options for the individual sites for that.