How to Disable Location on your Mobile Device

California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office has published an information sheet titled Location, Location, Location: Tips on Controlling Mobile Tracking.

The key advice in that sheet, how to disable mobile tracking on Android and iOS (iPhone and iPad) devices, is reposted below.  The tip sheet also includes location sharing advice for mobile versions of Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook email.

Also see ConnectSafely’s A Parents’ Guide to Mobile Phones.

Android Phones and Devices:

  • Go to Settings, then Permissions, then Location and turn it off.
  • When an app asks for access to your location, you can choose to grant it or not.
  • To disable geo-tagging of photos, open the camera and then click on the gear icon and set location to “No.” You may have to click the gear icon on several screen layers.
  • You can also choose how accurate you want your location reporting to be (with Location services On).
    • High accuracy mode uses GPS, WiFi, and cellular networks and provides the highest location accuracy and speed, and uses more battery.
    • Battery saving mode uses WiFi and cellular networks to estimate your location, which require less battery. You give up some accuracy and some speed when you select this mode.
    • Device only mode uses only GPS and provides less accurate location information, and uses more battery than the battery saving mode. This is the most location privacy protective and provides a degree of accuracy that is fine for many uses.
  • To disable location history, go to Google Settings, then Location, then Location History. You can turn Location History off for your device or for your Google Account. You can also delete your entire history or parts of it.

iOS iPhones and iPads (iOS 6 and later):

  • Go to Settings, then Privacy, then Location Services. You can turn it off. Alternatively, you can choose which functions and apps to give access to your location.
    • To disable geo-tagging of photos, deny location access to the camera, in Location Services.
    • To disable location history, go to Settings, then Privacy, then Location Services, then System Services, then Frequent Locations. Deselect Frequent Locations by sliding the tab.

(Source: California Attorney General’s Office)

Controlling mobile apps

Most mobile apps that track location will ask permission. In some cases this is on installation and in others the first time you use the app. Think about whether location is essential to what the app does for you. If it’s a navigation app, for example, than it makes sense for it to know your location. If it’s a flashlight, a game or other app that should be able to function without knowing your location than consider not giving it permission or not using that app.

Also, be aware that some apps will run in the background and can track your location even if you haven’t launched them. In some cases, the only way to stop them from running is to remove them from your device.