Precise location gives your coordinates to apps

Image of article titled Precise Location Is Give Your Coordinates Away to Apps

Photo: AngieYeoh (Shutterstock)

It’s no secret that our apps use our locations: in fact, many need them to function properly. You wouldn’t get very far on your road trip if Google Maps couldn’t see your location. But smartphone manufacturers do not specify how the location-sharing of works—in particular that you can choose between sharing your general location, or your exact location. Unless you change your privacy settings regularly, chances are you’ll broadcast your exact location to any app that wants it.

There are two types of location data you can share with an app: first, general location. This option gives the app a radius for your current location, but not a specific address. An app can know what part 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.

The precise location, on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like – IThis is 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, since you’d rather Maps know you’re on the highway than the lake alongside it.

Tagging with your current location is another common use case. For an app to automatically tag the specific restaurant, bar, park, or other location you are in, it needs a specific location rather than a general location.

However, there are very few apps that need to know your precise position. GPS apps, yes; ssocial media apps, probably not. It takes very little it’s time to type in the location you want to tag rather than having Instagram or Snapchat do it for you. For most applications, having a vague understanding of where you are is sufficient, and this is one of the less personal data you have to share with these companies.

Is precise location a dangerous feature?

Sometimes, precise location comes up in the news as something bad actors can use to target you. The claim is, because precise location shares your exact whereabouts, someone could use one of your social media posts to track you down.

Precise location, and location-tracking overall, have their faults, but they likely won’t allow a stranger on the internet to stalk you. While the feature does allows apps to see your specific location, it isn’t public information. Take Instagram, for example. It may 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 doesn’t save geotags on pictures you take in the app, either, but even if you upload a geotagged photo, there’s no way for followers to download the original photo and see that tag.

Geotagging, though, 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 that means is the location stays with the photo. If you directly send that photo to someone else, they’ll be able to see where you were when the photo was taken. If you’re interested in removing this data before sharing your photos with the world, you can check our guide here.

The issue here is more about privacy than security. By keeping an accurate location, you share your exact location with any interested business (and they are everything interested). As Apple and Google try to stop 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 does not relate directly to you. While it looks like your apps are selling your location data to Big Brother to spy on your movements, in practice companies are using that data to better sell you things (we live in a boring dystopia, after all).

It’s creepy though! Disabling 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 sneaky feature, especially on iPhone. When you open an app that wants to get your location information for the first time, you’ll see a popup asking for permission. This pop-up, with a mini-map preview of your location, is familiar to everyone on iOS and usually asks if you want to share your location with the app all the time, only when using the app, or never .

What is not Here, however, the Precise toggle is clearly hidden within the minimap, which is set to “On” by default. If you want to disable it from the start, you will need to disable it here before choosing the main location setting in the pop-up window.

Image of article titled Precise Location Is Give Your Coordinates Away to Apps

Screenshot: Jake Peterson

It’s not too late to fix the problem if you’ve already granted those permissions, though.. You can manage precise location settings on any iPhone running iOS 14 and later, or Android device running Android 12 and later.

On iPhone, go at Settings > Privacy > Location Services, then choose the app you want to manage. Now make sure the toggle next to “Precise location” is turned off, and you’re good to go. On Android, press and hold the app you want to manage, then go at App Info > Permissions > All Permissions. Below Locationmake sure “Approximate location” is enabled and “Precise location” is disabled.

Keeping precise location turned off for most apps is a good privacy practice. While you’re at it, be sure to review all of your location settings. iPhoneas well as your google account.

Leave a Comment