Your Smartphone Is Tracking Your Every Move

The fact that your smartphone is tracking you should not be a surprise.  What is surprising is the astounding depth of detail that is collected about when and where you have been since the day you activated your phone.  Today I am going to show you how to uncover this information.  And delete it if you choose.

The iPhone and Significant Locations

If there is something that software developers or device manufacturers DO NOT want you to know, they will bury the menu options and controls so they are impossible to find.  Apple’s Significant Locations is seven layers deep in the iPhone menu structure.  Apple says these locations are stored in an encrypted form and that Apple does not have access to this trove, but what is it there for?  Significant Locations shows your starting and stopping points, and a to-the-minute breakdown of the route you took.  Want to find this trove of location information?  Here’s how:

Open Significant Locations

  • Open the Settings app.
  • Navigate to the Privacy section.  The icon is a small white hand on a blue background.
  • Click Location Services
  • Scroll all the way down, and click System Services.
  • Navigate to Significant Locations.
  • Login with your passcode or FaceID.
  • There will be dozens, even hundreds of cities listed, with the number of discrete locations and the date you were there.
  • Click on  your hometown location.
  • Then click on Home.

Spend some time zooming around in  your location history.  If you find this all a little unsettling, so do I.  Lucky for me I have an Android phone.  (I’ll write about them in a minute.)  If you want to be rid of this list, move the Significant Locations switch to OFF, scroll to the bottom of the history list, and select Clear History.  But if you disable location services, the phone will no longer be useful for navigation.

Android and Google Timeline

If you are carrying an Android smartphone, your situation is no different.  You can go to Settings, Location, and see all the apps that have access to your location information.  Are your sure you want to permit all of that location tracking?

Google has a similar application to Significant Locations called Timeline.  You can access it from within your Google account .  The web address is https://www.google.com/maps/timeline.  Here you can see everywhere you have been in the last several years.  The closer you zoom into the map, the more detail you will discover.  Information like the hotel you stayed at or the route your traveled, scenic destinations you visited, or the home address of the people you saw are all in there.  You can select a specific date or date range to narrow your search.  Here is an example of my Timeline map.

If you click on the Setting Gear in the lower right hand corner , your will find a menu which allows you to do things like pause location gathering and delete your location history.  You can also download all the information.

If you are an Android user you owe it to yourself to check this “feature” out.  You can always opt out by turning off location (or can you?) but then your GPS guided navigation app will stop working too.  But it is worth knowing just what these two very large smartphone manufacturers have put in our phones.

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About the Author:

I am a cybersecurity and IT instructor, cybersecurity analyst, pen-tester, trainer, and speaker. I am an owner of the WyzCo Group Inc. In addition to consulting on security products and services, I also conduct security audits, compliance audits, vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. I also teach Cybersecurity Awareness Training classes. I work as an information technology and cybersecurity instructor for several training and certification organizations. I have worked in corporate, military, government, and workforce development training environments I am a frequent speaker at professional conferences such as the Minnesota Bloggers Conference, Secure360 Security Conference in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, the (ISC)2 World Congress 2016, and the ISSA International Conference 2017, and many local community organizations, including Chambers of Commerce, SCORE, and several school districts. I have been blogging on cybersecurity since 2006 at http://wyzguyscybersecurity.com

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