In the great pantheon of things our phones know about us, our location data is arguably the most sensitive (ill-advised bathroom selfies notwithstanding). The idea that some faceless company might be tracking our every move is objectively scary. While some apps require access to your location to perform their base functions, others seemingly ask for this permission for no reason at all.
While most app developers generally have good intentions, it’s wise to do an occasional audit of which apps can see your location data. Today, we’re going to try to separate those that need it from those that don’t, and show you the fastest and easiest way to run a thorough check.
Only when necessary
One excellent feature found in recent versions of iOS and Android is the ability to grant an app the permission to use your location only while the app is open and you’re actively using it. When installing a new app you should be given that option, and in the majority of cases that will be just what the doctor ordered. You can always change it later, too, which we’ll get into in a sec.
The apps that ask
Because there are a fafillion different apps out there we’re not going to get into individual names here, but rather look at broader categories.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but mapping apps aren’t going to be able to give you directions if they don’t know where you are. Generally speaking, these apps need access to your location.
Your camera asking for your location might seem a bit odd, but your phone is asking whether to add the location where your photos are taken to the photo metadata. Is this absolutely necessary? No, but as we’ve discussed before, having this data can make finding photos a lot easier.
Apps such as Lyft, Uber, Lime, Bird, and others will need your location data when you use the app, but it’s certainly not a permission that needs to be on all the time.
You’ll probably want to leave this on the whole time, as it will show your profile to more potential matches as you move around your area.
Granting location permissions to your weather app will allow it to tailor the forecast to where you are. If you move around a lot or live in an area prone to severe weather, it may be worth leaving this on persistently, assuming you think the app is trustworthy. Personally, I’d just enable it for while using the app.
Generally these apps just need your permission for geotagging the photos you post. Many of them will also use this data to serve you more targeted ads. I’d suggest turning this permission off and see if you actually miss it.
Games, retail, streaming and other junk
A lot of games ask for permissions they really don’t need. Unless it’s a location-based game (think Pokemon Go), then the game almost certainly doesn’t need it (or many other permissions). Streaming services may need access to your location to make sure you’re in a region where the content isn’t blocked, so I’d use the “only when open” option. Retail shops may use your location to alert you when you’re nearby a store. I’d say turn it all the way off.
How to Audit Your Location Permissions
- Open the Settings app
- Select Privacy, and then Location Services
- Here you will see a list of all the apps on your phone, and you can quickly choose to grant or deny location access, or select the “While Using” option.
- Open Settings
- Tap Location, and then App Permission
- Here you will see a list of all the apps on your phone, sorted by the permissions they have. You can tap an app to toggle its permission between Allowed All the Time, When In Use, and Denied.
All of this will take you just a couple of minutes, and you may be surprised by the apps that had your location permissions for seemingly no reason. Enjoy your newfound peace of mind.