Going Incognito from Your Smartphone


How private is your cell phone?

Smartphones provide all kinds of information that advertisers might find useful, including the user’s locations throughout the day. While this information is aggregated and anonymized—excluding names and other identifiers—it’s possible that hackers or other malevolent actors could gain access to a user’s raw data.

Location tracking can be useful for a number of reasons, ranging from targeted advertising from stores and brands, to traffic monitoring and reporting on the part of GPS apps, to analyzing the growth of potential coronavirus hot spots. But people often don’t know their information is being tracked, and disclosures that providing their location for use in a weather app might lead to their data being sold, for example, are often buried in the fine print.

Laws in Europe and California require companies that collect marketing and advertising data to provide that data to users. In other locations, people need to ask the company doing the collecting for what they’re collecting, and policies about how this plays out vary company by company. Also, asking an individual data collection company to do this will not tell you anything about others – or prevent them from accessing your information.

Other options are to opt out, either app by app, after evaluating which are collecting more information than you’d like and preventing them from gaining access, or by disabling the advertising identifier on your phone altogether.

Most mobile operating systems in 2020, including anything above and beyond iOS 6, Android 2.3, or Windows 10, come with mobile advertising identifiers.  The operating systems that provide these identifiers usually have settings built in to provide the user’s privacy preferences.  Companies typically give users the ability to opt out of their mobile advertising identifier.

For example, Apple enables the end user to turn off geo-targeted ads on the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and iMac.  The user must turn on the “Limit Ad Tracking” setting.  This does not guarantee you will see fewer ads, however, just that they will be less relevant because they won’t be based on your interests, Apple says.

For more information on going incognito from your Apple device, please click here. If you use Android, the Network Advertising Initiative provides a tutorial here.

It probably won’t change your life in any profound way, but taking a few extra minutes to detach yourself from the grid in this particular, targeted sense might buy you a little peace of mind that your every movement is not, at some level, being watched. And if a hacker comes a-hacking, they will have nothing on you.