Android : Make it harder to know where you are and where you’ve been
While location tracking may be highly useful ( Android ) — for example, when an app can inform you where the closest eateries or gas stations are — it can also be a privacy concern. Do you want Google to keep track of your every move? Are you at ease knowing that Mark Zuckerberg’s cronies are always aware of your whereabouts? (Well, not in the sense that Mark Zuckerberg employs minions, but you get the idea.)
In this post, we’ll look at how to stop your Android phone (and your Google account) from monitoring your position, as well as how to remove your location data from your operating system and some of the most popular applications. As always, keep in mind that Android versions vary, and many manufacturers employ overlays that alter the placement of certain controls — but they should be comparable enough for you to navigate.
I used a Pixel 6 phone running Android 12 for these instructions, but I’ve included some instructions for people using older Android versions.
STOP GOOGLE FROM TRACKING YOU, PERIOD.
You’re undoubtedly aware that Google’s Google Maps program can track your position and movements. However, you may not be aware that numerous other built-in applications on your Android phone are also tracking your travels and activities. If you don’t want your phone to monitor any of your movements or activities, you may disable tracking for all (or at least most) of them.
Simply be aware that many of your applications (such as ride-share apps, weather apps, and, of course, mapping apps) may become less accessible — or, in some cases, entirely useless — as a result of your actions.
STOP GOOGLE TRACKING USING A BROWSER
First, we’ll prevent Google from keeping your information.
- Go to https://myactivity.google.com/
- You’ll find buttons for three sorts of activity under “My Google Activity”: Web & App Activity, Location History, and YouTube History. By clicking the proper button, you may go to each one separately.
- However, going to Activity Controls in the left-hand menu may be a more efficient option. On this page, you’ll find all three controls in one place, as well as the ability to customize ad personalisation.
- Anything you’ve done on Google applications and services is included in “Web & App Activity.” You may opt to turn tracking off altogether or leave it on but have it not save your history or activities when you use Chrome. You may also disable “Include audio recordings,” which decides whether all of your Google and/or Google Assistant audio interactions are preserved.
- The “Location History” category, which records information on where you’ve gone with your device, is also relevant. Also, look for “Devices on this account” and click the down symbol to the right; you’ll receive a list of all the devices you have that are now tracking your location – this is a good thing to check because it might include old phones that you aren’t using.
- You can also turn off “YouTube History,” which covers both your search and watch past, as well as “Ad customization,” which utilizes your history to determine which ads you’ll see.
Okay, you’ve now stopped any further data collection. However, you may choose to remove all or part of the data that has already been gathered.
- Return to My Activities and select “Delete activity by” from the left-hand menu.
- You’ll see a pop-up box that allows you to remove your activity depending on time periods such as the previous hour, day, “All time” (all days), or “Custom range” for a specified date range.
- You’ll be able to select a date range if you select “Custom range.” If you select “All time,” you can then filter the data by services (such as ads, Chrome, Google Play Store, etc.). Click “Next” when you’re ready.
- After that, you’ll get a sneak peek at some of the activities that will be removed. Select “Delete” if you’re happy with it.
In addition, pick the “Manage activity” link under each category in Activity Controls and look for “Manage My Activity verification” if you want to be sure that only you can erase your records. If you activate this option, Google will prompt you for a password whenever you wish to view or erase any of your account’s history.
You may also enable auto-delete in each category (you’ll find the option inside each category on the Activity Controls page) if you don’t want to bother about manually removing your items. After three, 18, or 36 months, you can choose to have your activity deleted automatically.
STOP GOOGLE TRACKING ON AN ANDROID DEVICE
- Go to the Settings menu. Type “Activity controls” in the top search box and tap it when it appears.
- Select the Google account you wish to manage if you have more than one.
- You may turn off or suspend the monitoring of specific actions here, just as you do in the browser version, as well as set auto-delete and manage a chronology of your activity.
TURN LOCATION TRACKING ON AND OFF FROM THE QUICK SETTINGS TRAY
If you wish to be able to turn location tracking on and off as needed, that’s also possible. Using the Quick Settings tray is one way to achieve this (which is what you see when you swipe down from the top of your screen). The tray contains icons for the most often used Android functions, including a “Location” icon that turns on and off the location functionality.
- From the top of the screen, swipe down. If you’re running Android 12, you’ll see a series of bubbles for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, flashlight, and other features. It will be a line of icons if you’re on Android 11 or earlier. That’s your Quick Settings tray in any case. Find the Location icon (usually, it looks like an upside-down drop of water).
- Is there no one there? To view more bubbles on Android 12, slide across; otherwise, swipe down.
- Is something still missing? Look for a pencil icon; with a Pixel, it will be at the bottom of the tray, but it may be towards the top in certain Android screens. The menu will expand if you tap on the pencil. You may now see all of the available icons. Make sure the Location icon is in a prominent position in the tray.
- Hold and drag your Location symbol up to the visible group if it’s in the bottom area.
You can now toggle Location on and off with a simple swipe down from the top of your screen – for example, if you want to utilize Google Maps for directions, you can toggle Location on and then turn it off after you’re done.
STOP LOCATION TRACKING ON ANDROID DEVICES
If you don’t want Google to record all of your activity and only want the phone to cease recording your location, it’s simple to accomplish – as long as you pay attention to the details:
- Swipe down from the top of the screen to reveal your Quick Settings menu, then long-press the Location symbol — or swipe down, tap the Settings icon, then select “Location.”
- You’ve arrived at the page for Location. Toggle off the “Use location” function at the top of the page.
Wouldn’t you expect that to be the end of it? You’d be mistaken, however. What “Use location” means on Android depends on whatever sensors track the device’s location, which might include Wi-Fi, mobile networks, or other sensors in addition to GPS. Look a bit farther down this page before you depart.
If you’re using Android 12, search for the “Location services” button; if you’re using Android 11, look for the “Advanced” button and hit it. You can turn on or off many categories in either case. Depending on your Android version and the manufacturer of your phone, they might be:
- Google’s Emergency Location Service can help you find a location in an emergency. If there’s a problem, this alerts emergency responders where you are; for example, if your automobile goes off the road and an ambulance has to find you. You may disable this if you like, but be sure to read the tiny print: “Your cell carrier may still communicate device location during an emergency call if ELS is turned off.”
- Accuracy of Google’s location. Wi-Fi and other services are used to assist determine your position. If you wish to disable “Use location,” make sure this option is off as well. This must be enabled for any app that demands “precise location” (which I’ll explain in a minute).
- Location History on Google. This will take you to a screen where you may suspend your device’s location history gathering.
- Google Location Sharing is a service provided by Google. You can control who has access to your location if you’re sharing it with relatives or friends.
- Scanning for Wi-Fi. Even if Wi-Fi is switched off, this allows apps and services to check for nearby Wi-Fi networks.
- Scanning using Bluetooth. Even if Bluetooth is turned off, this allows apps and services to look for Bluetooth devices. This, together with the Wi-Fi scanning, is intended to improve location features.
If you don’t see these two, return to the Location page and look for a link that says “Wi-Fi and Bluetooth scanning.”
DISABLE LOCATION TRACKING FOR ANY SPECIFIC APP
You can find out which applications utilize location tracking and turn it off for those you don’t think require it.
- Go to the Location section of the website (by long-pressing the Location icon in your Quick Settings tray).
- Tap “App permission” (or “App location permissions” if you’re on Android 12).
- Here you’ll discover a list of all your current applications that have permission to access your location at any time or only when they’re in use. Tap on any to alter the permission to always allow, only allow while in use, always ask, or always refuse. You may also choose whether the app can utilize “precise location,” which means it can use more than GPS to figure out where you are. “Google Location Accuracy,” which may also be found on the Location tab, is useful for this.
When you turn off permissions in Android Settings, the app will sometimes try to persuade you to reinstate that permission. It’s annoying, but unless the app allows you to say, “No, leave me alone,” you’ll have to put up with it or find another app.
Update August 25th, 2020, 2:37PM ET: This article was originally published on April 12th, 2019; it has been updated to include the update from Android 9 to Android 10, along with changes to various web-based applications.
Update November 30th, 2021, 3:55PM ET: Updated to reflect changes in the Android operating system and in Google, Facebook, and Twitter apps.