How to Stop Apps From Tracking You While Traveling

Jan 29, 2019

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This week, a privacy bug in Apple’s inbuilt FaceTime calling software was discovered. In a nutshell, it allowed users to hear (and in some cases see) another person they dialed without the other party even answering. Apple has since disabled group FaceTime calling on its side until a fix is issued, which should come later this week per an official statement.

While you’d be wise to turn FaceTime off completely until the bug is fixed, it’s also worth pausing to check your privacy settings more broadly so you’re aware of what’s tracking you and when.

Manage Your Location Services

Unfortunately, most apps that you install on your smartphone or tablet will attempt to enable a sneaky setting by default. If you aren’t careful, you can easily tap through a confirmation upon initial setup that gives the app permission to track your location at all times, even when you aren’t actively using the app.

App developers love data. They love location data, usage data and personalization data. This data can be used for good — for example, Google Maps can use real-time traffic data to generate accurate forecasts of how bad future traffic will be — but it can also be used for ill. The trouble is that you, the end user, rarely have a bead on how a developer will use your data. Will they sell it to advertisers? Will they use it to target you with a product they’re hawking? All of the above?

backpack phone
Have smartphone, will travel (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

Granted, most travel related apps require that location services are enabled for them to be useful at all. While you should always consider how well you trust a certain company or developer, you can typically restrict apps from using your location data when you aren’t actively using the app.

On Apple’s iPhone and iPad products, you can check this by doing the following:

  1. Open Settings
  2. Pull down to find the search box, and input “Privacy”
  3. Within Privacy, tap into Location Services
  4. Comb through each app listed and select “While Using the App” for each app
  5. If the above option isn’t available, toggle “Never” until you’re using the app; you’ll need to manually turn Location Services on and off for these apps each time you use the app.

If you have a phone or tablet running Google’s Android operating system, Google has an entire guide devoted to managing location settings across the system as a whole as well as in individual apps.

Use the Web Instead of Apps

This is a more extreme option for those looking to truly purge their phone of avenues for tracking. Instead of downloading a dedicated app to check the weather, social media and even your credit cards, use a web browser like Apple Safari or Google Chrome.

This begins with deleting any app that has a suitable web-based replacement. Instead of downloading a weather app, for example, open a private browsing tab in your phone’s browser and bookmark a weather website. You can then focus your efforts on ensuring that your browser disallows location tracking. Additionally, you can toggle your browser to block all cookies, request Do Not Track and prevent cross-site tracking within Settings.

For Apple users, you can take things a step further by downloading a content tracker compatible with the Safari web browser, such as Refine. In essence, the fewer apps you have on your phone, the fewer programs you’ll need to be mindful of when it comes to tracking you.

Have any other tips for keeping tracking at bay on your smartphone and tablet? Let us know in comments below!

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