February 25, 2017
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4 ways your devices are monitoring you and how to stop them

As private individuals, we tend to take our privacy for granted. If people don’t see you or what you’re doing, that’s fine. The only fame we ever seem to be content with is among our friends and their friends. And even then, we only let ourselves and what we do to be known only if it was with our permission.

It seems the only privacy concerns we have are the ones we know about. Everything else is left to the ether of blissful ignorance. What you don’t know won’t hurt you, right?

But our quickly evolving technology is rife with ways in which your privacy can be violated. Information about you are constantly being monitored by various devices without you noticing it and it’s time to know which ones these are.

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1. Web history

Probably the most common, the most basic, and the one that’s most obvious to us is your search history. And if you have a web browser spread out across multiple devices under one account, then the browser/app has a wider net into which it can better anticipate your wants so they can advertise to you more accurately.

For example, your Android device and all your Google accounts save a history of all your web searches, clicks, YouTube videos you’ve watched, and where your devices have been when your GPS was on.

Now, you may say it can’t all be that bad. They’re just trying to get to know you better. They want to be able to know what you want, what you’re like, your habits, and what catches your attention so they can serve you better. They swear you’re the only one with access to your history. Now, you can turn it off, but would you know about it? Would you even care?

your website visits are still recorded by your ISP while your mobile carriers can track “pings” from your phone on nearby cell towers.

It’s easy to turn your web history off prevent your device from tracking your searches. In Google Settings, go to Account History, then Web & App activity, and then Mnage History. Just tap/click the necessary buttons to delete your history and you’re done.

If you’re keeping some pages, searches, and accounts online, you can just select pages you want deleted while not clearing your cache, but we recommend that you delete your whole history and cache every once in a while. It helps when you type your username and password every once in a while, and it sharpens your memory!

You can pause your web history in any of your devices, just tap “Data from this device” on the main Web & App Activity screen, then uncheck the “On for this device” setting. You can always turn on Chrome’s private browsing feature but this is temporary.

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2. Voice command

If you’ve ever used voice commands on your mobile devices, it probably keeps an archive of every voice command you’ve ever used. Each time you say something for the Google Now search box, Android saves a copy of your voice command in its “Voice & Audio” history, which goes back to the first time you’ve used it. You can even play it.

Now, this can be delicate information as any security measure that requires your voice for verification can now violated if someone hacks your mobile devices. Identity thieves would want information like this.

To get to your history of voice commands, you can go to the Account History screen in the Google Settings app, go to Voice & Audio Activity, then go to Manage History. Now you have access to a list of the voice commands you’ve used, and you can play them.

This can be delicate information as any security measure that requires your voice for verification can now violated if someone hacks your mobile devices. Identity thieves would want information like this.

You can delete them by going to the Settings button (gear), then tap Remove Items. You can delete portions of the data or all of it. You can pause your voice history by going back to the main Voice & Audio Activity screen then unchecking the On button at the top.

Your phone does this in order to fine tune what it does in response to your voice command. So you can delete them but making a voice command would be more difficult this time around like it’s hearing you for the first time.

3. Youtube browsing

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Since Youtube is basically part of the whole Google infrastructure, even the info they collect is fair game for Google. You can even access your web history, voice activity, and YouTube history (etc) from your Google Settings app’s Account History. It’s all there, just so it can get you more accurate search results and recommend you things that you might like.

In the Account Activity section, go to YouTube Search History, and then Manage History for a list of your searches, which compiles all of your YouTube searches across your various devices. You can delete specific items in the history or you can delete them all. As always, you can pause the search history until you feel like turning it back on again.

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4. Location/GPS

Of course, you can turn off the Location History on any or all of your Android devices so they can stop doing that. If you let your apps do that, they can keep track of your location across your different devices, constantly pinging Google’s servers your devices’ positions even when you’re not using them, as long as the device’s WIFI or GPS is on.

According to Google, location history helps apps like Google Now inform you of things like commute times, establishments it can recommend on your chosen route, and even movie times.

To delete your location history, go to Account Activity in the Google Settings app. Go to Google Location History, uncheck devices whose location you don’t want shared, and/or simply tap Delete Location History to delete your entire location history.

Who’s tracking you?

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Now that you’ve deleted your history, you may think you’re safe. Well, here’s the thing: your website visits are still recorded by your ISP while your mobile carriers can track “pings” from your phone on nearby cell towers.

Wall Street Journal even published an article investigating 101 smartphone apps, with more than half the number transmitting personal data to third parties like advertisers. Out of the 101, 56 sent the user’s unique device ID to outside providers and 47 sent them geo-locations. Apps like Textplus 4 and Pandora were apparently sending gender, age, phone identifiers, and location to eight ad companies.

“In the world of mobile, there is no anonymity,” Michael Becker of the Mobile Marketing Association said.

Depending on the app, some have opt-out feature that stops it from sending data to advertisers but the reality is most apps don’t.

“The great thing about mobile is you can’t clear a Unique Device ID like you can a cookie [on your computer]. We watch what apps you download, how frequently you use them [and] how much time you spend on them,” Meghan O’Holleran from Traffic Marketplace, an Internet ad network, said.

Apple and Google allow advertisers to target users though they claim they do not track users based on app usage. They both claim that the issue lies with app makers and the users who download them.

Your best bet is to destroy your phone or not use the apps at all. OR just delete all of the apps in your phone and use it as it’s originally intended: a phone.

Opting out

Still, there are less destructive ways to avoid this, like turning off your GPS or location tracker. With Android, go to Maps -> Latitude -> Privacy and with iPhone, Settings -> General -> Location Services. Or just generally do not use WiFi or data when you’re out.

Depending on the app, some have opt-out feature that stops it from sending data to advertisers but the reality is most apps don’t. Because these are multimillion companies, Apple and Google won’t turn off ads, but you can choose to stop personal data from being sent to Apple’s iAd system at  http://oo.apple.com. Google’s even more unaccommodating by claiming they don’t create user profiles, the apps do.

Smartphone tech is great and there are many apps out there that has helped us lead more comfortable lives but in exchange, we sacrifice privacy and security. Some solutions are simple and come easy, but at the end of the day, these apps have people behind them who need to get paid. If they can’t take your money, they have to take something else.