It’s no secret that our apps use our locations – in fact, many need to in order to function properly. You wouldn’t get very far on your road trip if Google Maps couldn’t see your location. But smartphone makers don’t make it clear how location sharing works, in particular that you can choose between sharing your general location, or your exact Location. Unless you routinely adjust your privacy settings, chances are you’re broadcasting your exact location to whatever app wants it.
There are two types of location data that you can share with an app: first, general location. This option gives the app a radius for your current location, but not a precise address. An app might know what neighborhood of a city you’re in, which can give you information relevant to your area, but it won’t know you’re at your friend’s house at 123 Main St.
Precise location, on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a setting that allows an app to see your specific location, so it knows exactly where you are. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on the app. Navigation apps come to mind, of course, as you’d rather Maps knew you’re on the road rather than the lake that runs alongside it.
Tagging with your current location is another common use case. For an app to automatically tag the restaurant, bar, park, or other specific location where you hang out, it needs a precise location rather than a general location.
However, there are very few applications that need to know your precise location. GPS apps, yes; social media apps, probably not. It takes very little time to type in the location you want to tag instead of Instagram or Snapchat doing it for you. For the purposes of most applications, having a vague idea of where you are is adequate and one less piece of personal data to share with these companies.
Is precise location a dangerous feature?
Sometimes the precise location appears in the news as something bad actors can use to target you. The claim is that because pinpoint location shares your exact whereabouts, someone could use one of your social media posts to track you down.
Precise location and location tracking in general have their flaws, but they probably won’t let a stranger on the internet stalk you. While the feature allows apps to see your specific location, it’s not public information. Take Instagram, for example. It can have your precise location, but it doesn’t use it in your posts unless you want it to. If you don’t tag your precise location in the post, there’s no way for others to know where you are for sure. Instagram also doesn’t save geotags on photos you take in the app, but even if you upload a geotagged photo, followers can’t download the original photo and see that tag.
However, geotagging is something to consider. Your phone’s camera likely uses Precise Location by default to add the exact location of the photo to the file’s metadata. All it means is that the location stays with the photo. If you send that photo directly to someone else, they will be able to see where you were when the photo was taken. If you’re interested in deleting this data before sharing your photos with the world, you can check out our guide here.
The problem here is more related to privacy than security. By keeping precise location turned on, you’re sharing your exact location with any business that’s interested (and they’re everybody interested). While Apple and Google try to prevent developers from selling your data to advertisers and other companies, it still happens. The good news, if you can call it that, is that all of this data is anonymous and not directly linked to you. While it seems that your apps are selling your location data to Big Brother to spy on your movements, in practice, companies use this data to better sell you their stuff (we live in a boring dystopia, after all).
Still, it’s creepy! Turning off precise location does not prevent companies from receiving and selling your location data, but it does prevent them from receiving and selling your exact Location.
Manage precise location settings on your smartphone
The problem is that precise location is a tricky feature, especially on the iPhone. When you open an app that wants your location information for the first time, you see a pop-up asking for permission. This popup, complete with a minimap preview of your location, is familiar to anyone on iOS, and typically asks if you want to share your location with the app all the time, only when you use the app, or never. .
What It is not Overtly clear here, however, is the precise toggle hidden on the minimap, which is set to “On” by default. If you want to disable it from the start, you’ll need to disable it here before choosing the primary location setting in the popup.
However, it is not too late to fix the problem if you have already granted these permissions. You can manage precise location settings on any iPhone running iOS 14 and later, or an Android device running Android 12 and later.
On iPhone, go to Settings > Privacy > Location Servicesand choose the app you want to manage. Now, make sure the option next to “Precise Location” is disabled and you’re good to go. On Android, touch and hold the app you want to manage, then go to App info > Permissions > All permissions. Under Locationmake sure “Approximate Location” is enabled and “Precise Location” is disabled.
Keeping precise location disabled for most apps is a good privacy practice. While you’re at it, be sure to check all of your iPhone’s location settings, as well as your Google account.