How to Stop Applications and Services from Tracking You

By Tim Chesonis •  Updated: 12/11/19 •  9 min read

Some people are very fearful of being tracked or spied on, and will uninstall applications and disable services on their iPhone to ensure that they are not tracked. But which applications should one uninstall and services should you disable to ensure that you are not be traced?

Most applications that track your location are not trying to spy on you with nefarious intent, but do so for advertising purposes. However, you can stop them cold in their tracts by managing these applications and services, determining which app or service can track you, and when or if they can.

Enabling location services on your phone can be a curse and a blessing. It’s great to have so that you can use services such as a mapping program that will help you navigate to wherever you may need to go. However, the other side of that is that these very same “services” can track where you go, what stores you visit, when you visit those stores, and a whole lot more.

I for one, do not want to give my information away, and I don’t want a business tracking (stalking), my whereabouts. It’s just creepy. If you are like me, there are a few things that you can do right now to limit their access to your whereabouts.

Beware of the Poisoned Apple (honestly, no pun intended!)

Every time I download an application to my iPhone, I can’t help but think about the wicked witch from the movie, “Snow White”, specifically this scene:

Snow White put her head out of the window, and said, “I must not let anyone in; the seven dwarves have forbidden me to do so.

That is all right with me,” answered the peddler woman. “I’ll easily get rid of my apples.  Here, I’ll give you one of them.

No,” said Snow White, “I cannot accept anything from strangers.

Are you afraid of poison?” asked the old woman. “Look, I’ll cut the apple in two.  You eat half and I shall eat half.

Now the apple had been so artfully made that only the one half was poisoned.  Snow White longed for the beautiful apple, and when she saw that the peddler woman was eating part of it she could no longer resist, and she stuck her hand out and took the poisoned half.  She barely had a bite in her mouth when she fell to the ground dead.

Whenever I install an app, I question whether or not I am being deceived like Snow White was. What is the motive behind the author of the app that I am installing? What information, if any, are they trying to collect from me?

There are Types of Apps

  1. Apps that want to know your location.
  2. Apps that want to use Bluetooth.
  3. Apps that don’t care about your location and have no use for Bluetooth.

I’m honestly not a conspiracy theorist, but I do wonder why Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and many other popular apps need to know my exact location all the time. Actually, I know why, but these apps don’t need my exact location in order to function, and that’s the problem I have with them. This is why I intentionally “log out” of these location based apps as soon as I am finished using them.

IOS 13: The Great Door Keeper

With the release of IOS 13, Apple has made it a point to let you know if an app wants to track your location. With the release of IOS 13, any application that wants to triangulate your location using GPS or Bluetooth are now required to get your consent upon first launch. Absolutely Brilliant.

Apps That Want Track You Using GPS

The first time you use an app that wants triangulate your location by way of GPS, you will receive the following message on your screen.

Notice that you have choice. You can choose to allow the app in question, (in this example, Google Maps), to do one of the following:

Now, if you choose to turn Location Services off altogether, you can do so, but you won’t be able to use apps like Maps, or any other app that is location based. For the most part, you will probably want to select “Allow While Using App” any time you open a new app for the first time. In a minute, we will walk through the process of managing apps that depend on Location Services.

Apps That Want Track You Using Bluetooth

When installing an application that wants to triangulate your location by way of Bluetooth, you will see a message from Apple warning you of their intent. You get to decide if the application can access Bluetooth on your iPhone or not. Why would they want this? Because they want to send you a popup advertisement on your iPhone when you walk by there store.

The screenshot displayed below is what you would see when you first launched the Macy’s app when IOS 13 was first released.

Now, application authors are wising up. They are incorporating the request for permission in their splash screen.

For example, with the release of IOS 13.3, the below screenshot shows what you now see when you first launch the Macey’s app. Note that they are asking if you would like to “Enable Location Services”, or choose “Not Now”. Additionally, they offer their “Privacy Practices” on this same splash screen. It looks nicer. Though they still want to enable Location Services, it does not feel as obtrusive.

The below screenshot does not look like they got caught. Instead, they are up front in their request, but keep in mind, you will see this same request EVERY time you launch their app, and because it is annoying, chances are you will simply tap “Enable Location Services”. That’s their hope.

Managing Location Services

Let’s take a closer look by looking at the Location Services settings.

Open the Settings app, and tap Privacy > Location Services. Here, you can control what apps, (if any), are allowed to use Location Services. If you scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, you will see the following Key.

It reads as follows:

A hollow arrow indicates that an item may receive your location under certain conditions.

A purple arrow indicates that an items has recently used your location.

A gray arrow indicates that an item has used your location in the last 24 hours.

For the privacy conscious, you will probably want to ensure that you use “While Using” for many if not all of the applications that utilize Location Services.

If you have an application that uses Location Services all the time, there is the Location Alerts option. The Location Alerts option can be found by opening the Settings app, and tapping Privacy > Location Services > Location Alerts, and toggle on Show Map in Location Alerts. Once this setting is enabled, a map will occasionally pop up showing you where you have been when using a given application.

If you are privacy conscious, you will probably want to turn Location Alerts off as it uses GPS, Bluetooth, crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspots and cell tower locations to determine your approximate location.

How to Turn Off Bluetooth Triangulation

Another setting you should be aware of can be found after launching the Settings app, tap Privacy > Bluetooth. It is here that you will find all of the applications on your iPhone that will attempt to triangulate your location by way of Bluetooth. Again, why does Facebook need access to Bluetooth? As you can see below, it’s not getting access to me via Bluetooth.

How to Limit Ad Tracking

You can opt out of receiving ads targeted to your interest by enabling a setting called “Limit Ad Tracking“. By enabling this feature, it limits ads that are specifically targeted to your interests, just note that it does not completely remove all ads. To implement this, open the Settings app, and tap Privacy > Advertising. It is here that you will want to enable “Limit Ad Tracking“.

Turn on Airplane Mode to Go Off the Grid

If you REALLY don’t want anybody to know your location, even your cellular carrier, you can turn ON Airplane Mode. This prevents them from being able to triangulate your location using their cell towers.

Disable the Majority of System Services

If you want to be anonymous, you can disable the majority of the System Services. You can do so by opening the Settings app, and tap Privacy > System Services. Disable as many or as few as you like. Below are the setting that I am currently using. Additionally, I disabled all 4 settings under the “Product Improvement” section at the bottom of the screen.

If you tap on “Significant Locations” at the bottom of the first section, (the default settings is ON), you will something that looks like the screen below.

You can toggle the “Significant Locations” off. If you do toggle that off, you will be confronted with the following warning, whereupon you can then turn it off completely. The warning reads, “Disabling Significant Locations will affect many Apple apps and services that use personalized Location Services such as Maps, Do Not Disturb While Driving, CarPlay, Siri, Calendar, and Photos.”

Closing Thoughts

I would caution you to be very careful in what information you allow applications and services (like Google Maps, or Facebook), to gather from you. For EVERY app that you install, be sure that you open up Settings, and tap on Privacy > Location Services, and see what type of access, (if any), the app in question wants to glean from you.

Tim Chesonis

Tim has been helping people with computers needs for several years, and he loves to help people succeed. He brings a wealth of wisdom and insight from an entrepreneur's perspective and enjoys freelance writing. In fact, when he's not writing an article, you might find him binge-watching Suits or formatting his computer . . . again, just for fun. To learn more about Tim, click here.