A large number of electronic devices track your physical location around the clock. This can lead to many serious privacy concerns, and understandably many people want to minimize the amount of location data they transmit. Below, we’ll go over the ways to disable location tracking on a wide range of devices and services.
How location tracking works
There are several methods of tracking your location and different devices uses different combinations of these to pinpoint you on a map:
- IP address: If you’re on a laptop or desktop, chances are your location is being tracked by IP address. This is less precise than other forms of location tracking, but is generally good enough for the geolocation use cases you’d need on a larger device like a computer.
- GPS: Some phones and tablets use GPS to track your location. GPS is very accurate and works anywhere in the world. However, it works less well indoors and can be a power-hungry feature, draining your battery, so not all devices use GPS for location tracking.
- Signal-based location: Most phones use a combination of cellular tower data, wifi signals, bluetooth and other radios to calculate your location. This works best in urban areas with many data points to compare. It is also much less energy-intensive than GPS.
Instructions on disabling tracking
In the address bar, type in “about: config” without the quotes. Scroll down the list it provides until you see “geo.enabled”. If across from this it says “false,” Firefox is not tracking your location. If it says “true,” double click the word “true” and it’ll switch to “false.”
Select the wrench icon in the upper right hand side, then Options, then Under the Hood, then Content Settings, then Location. You’ll be presented with a list of options. Select “Do Not Allow Any Site To Track My Physical Location”. Chrome always opens a small box that lets you choose to allow or deny geotracking on a site-by-site basis as a standard feature.
Click on Internet Options. This will open a window with multiple tabs. Select the Privacy tab. Look for the check box marked “Never Allow Websites To Track Your Physical Location,” and while you’re at it, click “Clear Sites.”
Open Settings, then Privacy, and then click on Location Services. You can toggle all services off at this point, or you can open the menu and disable specific geotagging functions from there, like on your camera.
Select Settings, and then Location and Security. You can disable any location functions from there.
You may be surprised to learn that Google Maps stores a detailed history of all of the locations you have searched for over time. You can view this map through Google’s map history page. From there, you can delete past history and disable tracking.
Embedded photo data
Photos often also contain embedded geolocation data that can be used to track you. One of the most common geotagging formats for photos is called EXIF. Fortunately, this is generally easy to remove from photos. Search for “exif” in the app store for your phone and you should see a number of free options for deleting EXIF data prior to posting.