Stop Maps apps tracking your location on your phone

It depends on which Maps app is on your phone, how it is used and location services settings, but you may be giving too much information about the places you visit. Use maps more privately.

Privacy is a big deal these days, mostly because of the lack of it and it seems that everything we do on our phones and our computers is being monitored, tracked and recorded by someone. It is like you can’t do anything without someone watching.

Are maps apps tracking you on your phone? They need to know your location so they can show it on a map and work out the best route from where you are to where you want to go. They also use it to show you places of interest, stores, places of interest, fuel or electric vehicle charging points nearby.

It would be awkward if you had to manually set your current location before using any of these features in a maps app. You know where you live and can find it on a map, but what if you are in an unfamiliar city on a holiday or business trip? You might not be able to find the exact street you are on very easily, or see what is nearby.

Maps apps use location services like GPS and they know exactly where you are and the places you have visited. Your location history is stored. Do you trust the maps maker with this information or does it worry you that they know so much about you? What can you do about it? Let’s look at Google Maps and Apple Maps.

Google Maps incognito mode

Google Maps is one of the most popular maps apps and the level of detail in the maps is excellent. It is the one that all others try to beat, but how good is the privacy? Not very. Your maps activity and the locations you visit are stored in your Google account and it builds up into quite a detailed activity history. You can see where you were on specific dates and more.

If you are concerned about privacy and do not want your activity and locations tracked on your Android phone or iPhone, there is an incognito mode in Google Maps that is similar to the incognito mode in Chrome web browser.

Google Maps incognito mode on the iPhone
Go incognito in Google Maps

Tap your account picture in the top right corner of the screen in Google Maps and a menu is displayed. Press Turn on Incognito mode. When it is enabled, the bar at the top of the screen is black and t tells you that incognito mode is on. Your account picture is replaced with an incognito mode icon.

Google Maps menu showing incognito mode
Turn off Google Maps incognito mode

While in Google Maps incognito mode, the app does not save your browsing or search history to your Google account. It does not send you notifications. It does not update your location history or shared location. It does not use your activity to personalize Maps.

Some features are not available in incognito mode, although they are not important ones. For example, search completion suggestions, your stored places, your commute details and so on.

Google Maps is available on Android phones and iPhones, and incognito mode is available on both. You can use it all the time or just when you want a bit of extra privacy and don’t want your location or searches saved.

Maps incognito mode is persistent. Switch to another app, switch back and it is still in incognito mode. Close the app and swipe it away from the task switcher. Start it again later and it is still in incognito mode. It stays that way until you disable it, so you could use it permanently in incognito mode if you wanted to.

Apple Maps privacy features on iPhone

Apple is focused on privacy these days and it is a major selling point for its devices and services. As you might expect, Apple Maps has a lot of privacy features and options. Inevitably, increasing privacy limits some features and functions of the Maps app, but you can choose how much you want to share and only share what you are comfortable with. Let’s take a tour of the Maps privacy settings on the iPhone.

iPhone location services

Location services in iOS privacy settings.
Location services in iOS privacy settings

Open the Settings app on the iPhone and press Privacy & Security. At the top is Location Services and it will say On or Off. Normally it is set to On. Press it.

Location services in iOS settings
Location services in iOS settings

Maximum privacy is when Location Services is switched off. However, this severely limits some features and functions. It is up to you, but I would leave it on and configure the other options. Press Share My Location.

iPhone location sharing

Location sharing options in iOS on the iPhone.
Are you sharing too much? Disable location sharing

It is useful to have Find My iPhone enabled because it enables you to locate a lost or stolen iPhone. However, you might want to turn off Share My Location for privacy. This prevents your location from being shared with family and friends. It is your choice and some people might want this enabled.

Limit location accuracy on the iPhone.
Location accuracy settings on the iPhone

Return to Settings > Privacy & Security > Location Services, swipe up to view all the apps using location services and press Maps. There is an option to never allow Maps to access your location, which is great for privacy, but it will not be able to show where you are, guide you with directions and so on. It is too limiting for many people.

Limit location access to While Using the App and turn off Precise Location to limit Maps’ ability to locate you. It can tell roughly where you are, like which town you are in, but not exactly where you are.

These options are available with every app that uses location services to see where you are. It is more useful to limit other apps than to limit the Maps app. I would enable Precise Location for Maps, but turn it off for non-essential apps. It is up to you though.

iPhone significant locations

iOS location services in the Settings app on an iPhone.
Significant locations on the iPhone

Return to Settings > Privacy & Security > Location Services, swipe up to get to the bottom of the apps list and then press System Services. Among the items are two of interest and Improve Maps sends data back to Apple to help it improve the app. It does so as privately as possible, but you still might want to turn this setting off. It is a personal choice, but at least you now know where the setting is.

The other important setting is Significant Locations. Press it.

Significant locations in iOS settings on the iPhone.
The iPhone stores significant locations.

The iPhone remembers the places you have been to and if you regularly visit the same place, like home or work, it automatically stores it as a significant location. As you can see from the screenshot, burgers and pizza are two of my significant locations, showing that your phone knows more about you than you might be comfortable with.

There is an option to Clear History at the bottom. Should you? It is up to you.

Turn off significant locations in iOS on the iPhone.
Disable significant locations on the iPhone

You can turn off Significant Locations with the switch at the top, but it can be useful for your iPhone to know where you regularly visit, so it can display traffic for your drive to work, for example. It is not an essential service, but it makes the iPhone more intelligent when suggesting things. It is your choice.

More privacy features on RAWinfopages

Featured Image by TheAndrasBarta from Pixabay