Most of us have wondered, at one time or another, if smartphone tracking is being done to us. Truth is… it probably is!

The New York Times released an interesting, in-depth investigation about who is tracked in the United States via personal smartphones and how much of that information is out there for public use. The answer? Everyone is tracked, no matter where they are. And all of that information is available to pretty much anyone who knows how to access it.

This all started when an anonymous source gave the Times a massive file showing location tracking data for more then 12 million phones from around the country that accurately showed where, when and for how long individuals visited places ranging from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

From the Times report:

“In the cities that the data file covers, it tracks people from nearly every neighborhood and block, whether they live in mobile homes in Alexandria, Va., or luxury towers in Manhattan. One search turned up more than a dozen people visiting the Playboy Mansion, some overnight. Without much effort we spotted visitors to the estates of Johnny Depp, Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger, connecting the devices’ owners to the residences indefinitely.”

You’ve been diligent about checking your privacy settings in your social media accounts and are smart about what you post publicly, so how does all this information get out there?

Many cell phone apps that we use and take for granted almost every day such as weather and maps collect and sometimes sell location data that it is constantly gathered from your smartphone. When you set up these apps, you’re often asked to give permission to allow location access with warnings that the app may not work without it. The fine print often says that the data collected will be anonymous, but the NY Times investigation shows that isn’t really the case.

The NYT was able to easily identify individuals such as state officials, celebrities, and police officers by tracing location data patterns. Sometimes, the data revealed sensitive information, like a trip to an abortion clinic or a psychiatrist’s office, the route of a police officer from work to home, or the exact location of a JPL scientist working on a top-secret national security project. In fact, even children are being tracked, even though there are a few vague laws about tracking anyone under the age of 13, they are practically unenforceable, and that age demographic can be very attractive to certain marketing groups as well as others.

How to limit smartphone data tracking

If this report makes you want to limit how much data tracking can be done via your smartphone, there are ways to limit it. But please note that if you do it, can affect the performance of apps you might rely on such as weather and maps.

  • Apple/iOS: Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Set all apps to “Never”
  • Android: Settings > Security & location > Location (under “Privacy” section) > App-level permissions > Toggle location data on/off

Currently, it’s legal to collect and sell all this information and there are no federal laws in the United States, as in most of the world, that limit this. Smartphone tracking (a,k.a. location tracking) is hard to avoid and you can only do so much. Consumer interest groups are currently calling for federal laws to limit data tracking, and some companies are pledging to stop sharing data.

Here at Softcom, we can pledge to you that we do not share any data collected from our customers outside of our company for any reason and will never do so in the future.