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What map apps Track (and how to get them to stop)

From The Zebra

Consulting a handheld map or pulling into the gas station to ask for directions seem like road trip activities of the distant past, and most of us are grateful for the advances in technology that allow us to drive to a new location without worry. Top-rated map apps offer features such as live traffic updates and route creators — even accommodating multiple stops — and can help you plan the ultimate road trip with little stress.

With GPS becoming standard in all new cars and phones, it’s important to consider just how much these devices know about you. While these services may be convenient, it’s easy for them to take advantage of their ability to track your location and daily habits. To prevent these systems from learning too much about you, it’s important to take precautions when it comes to what data they are able to track, store, and sell. Below we’ll discuss how map apps collect, use and share your data, and give you some tips on how to disable or limit tracking.

What map apps know about you

Map apps compile location data and analyze patterns to find out:

  • Where you live
  • Businesses you visit
  • How long you stay in each location
  • Your travel patterns

Tech companies such as Google and Apple can cross-reference your location history against your search history to build a detailed personal profile, learning who your friends are and where you meet.

Even when data collected by apps on your phone is anonymized — which isn’t always the case — location tracking is so precise that tech companies can make certain assumptions based on your travel history. Location services may determine your home address, drawing conclusions based on where you are at night and on weekends. If an app accesses your location frequently enough, it can determine where you work and your usual schedule even if you don’t enable location services at all times. It can even tell if you have a favorite restaurant or regularly drop your kids off at daycare.  

Typically the data is shared with mobile ad networks, who in turn tailor ads to you based on your whereabouts and preferences. While advertising as a privacy threat may seem fairly innocuous (if still annoying), having your personal data harvested can cost you money. For instance, information sent to insurance and mortgage companies may cause you to pay higher premiums and rates if you live in a bigger city or spend a lot of time in rush hour traffic every day.

There’s no way to know where your personal data might end up. The most privacy-conscious option is to limit the information you share in the first place.  

How to turn off location tracking

Map apps need to know your location to provide accurate directions, keep you up-to-date on traffic incidents and guide you to the nearest coffee shop. However, they don’t need to necessarily know where you are every minute of the day. You can control when these apps can track your location by changing your phone’s settings.

If you have an iPhone:

  • Open settings
  • Tap “privacy”
  • Select “location services”
  • Here you can select the option to turn all location services off
  • Or you can manage the settings on individual apps by tapping each app and switching location services to “never” or “while using”

If you have an Android, you won’t have the option to turn permission on only while using the app, but you can still turn it off.

  • Open settings
  • Select “advanced”
  • Choose “app permissions”
  • Tap “location” to see a list of apps with access to your location and turn permissions on or off

How to find your location history

You may not realize that when Apple devices and certain applications track your location to provide you with accurate driving directions and location-aware services, it records your location history. You do have the option to opt out this tracking, and in some cases erase your location history.

If you have an iPhone:

  • Open settings
  • Tap “privacy”
  • Select “location services”
  • Tap “system services”
  • Scroll to “significant locations” — or “frequent locations” if you’re running an older iOS — to see what location information Apple stores
  • Turn this feature off with the toggle button

Android doesn’t keep a log of your location history by default, however, it does give you the option to enable location history when you first log into your device.

  • Open settings
  • Go to “security & location”
  • Under the privacy subhead, you’ll see “location”
  • Find the “Use location” feature at the top and toggle it off.

This will prevent GPS from following the location of the device, but you should also review the location services under the “Advanced” button to manage location tracking via Wi-Fi, mobile networks or other sensors. You’ll have four categories that you can toggle on or off.

Apple Maps

Apple Maps has a clear navigation screen and a quick pull-up menu to easily find gas and restaurants. It has a nighttime mode that adjusts the screen for low lighting. Apple integrates its native apps, so if you have an event saved in your calendar, a traffic notification from Apple Maps will ensure you leave the house on time. Turn by turn directions are accompanied by a gentle tap on the wrist of Apple watch wearers, so you’re less likely to miss a turn. It even has indoor maps of some malls and airports around the world.  

Since the app focuses so much on the user’s current location, it makes it difficult to see and report future slowdowns. Apple maps does not warn the user about speed traps, obstructions or road conditions.

  • Apple Maps tracks your locations visited, places searched, methods of transportation, and dates of travel.
  • Apple says it doesn’t share the GPS or search history information it gathers with outside companies and the information is stored on devices rather than Apple servers. The company does allow advertisers to target users based on their history in the App Store and News app. If you’ve been reading up on a travel destination, you may see ads relevant to your future travel plans.
  • It can be tricky, however, to get a copy of the personal information Apple has about you. The company said it will streamline the process to make it more user-friendly soon. In the meantime, call Apple Care at 1-800-692-7753 to request the deletion of your data.
  • Apple recently announced that it would reduce its reliance on third-party data providers like TomTom and OpenStreetMap, instead using anonymized data from users’ iOS devices to improve Apple maps.
  • Apple’s growing privacy focus has led the company to state: “When you use Apple Maps, your route from A to B is fragmented into scrambled sections on Apple servers, because nobody else should know your entire route. Not even us.”
  • Apple Maps ntegrates with most native Apple apps, Siri, and Apple watch.

How to edit location history within Apple Maps

You can delete recent locations or search history within the Apple Maps app.

  • Open the Maps app
  • Tap the top of the search bar and swipe up to show the search card
    • Swipe left over the entry, then tap “Remove”

Google Maps

Google Maps is one of the best-known navigation apps. In addition to driving, you can get walking, biking, and public transportation routes. It gives you an overview of the part of town you’re in, so can you can see which businesses and points of interest are near your destination. Built-in Google search gives you more information on what is near you. Integration with Google Street view makes it easy to pull up to the correct address.

  • Google tracks your locations visited, places searched, methods of transportation, and dates of travel. Even when you simply open its Maps app, Google stores a snapshot of where you are at the time.
  • Even with the location history turned off, there may be a detailed history of locations stored with Google under separate settings called “Web and App Activity” and device-level “Location Services”. It can be deleted, although it’s a laborious process.
  • Location records stored in “My Activity” are used to target ads; ad buyers can pay a higher premium to target specific locations.
  • The Maps app integrates with google street view, google assistant and google home.

How to edit location history within the app

You can access your location history through the Google Maps app.

  • Open Google Maps
  • Select “your timeline” from the side navigation menu
  • Tap the month at the top of the screen to expose a calendar view where you can see (and delete) location data for any given day
  • Or, you can delete your entire history from the database


Waze is one of the largest community-based navigation apps, meaning that you receive feedback from other users in addition to GPS navigation. Users can alert others to accidents, road closures, speed checkpoints and more. It functions much like a social network. Rather than the standard voice navigation, Waze has options that include celebrity voices and the ability to record commands in your own voice.

While Waze excels at finding alternate routes, it tends to send users through residential neighborhoods. It’s not necessarily a time saver and can be annoying to drivers and residents alike.

  • Google’s acquisition of Waze means the data on where you’ve been will become part of the information they collect about you (even if you aren’t connected to Google Maps) and use to target ads on your device and elsewhere.
  • Google also keeps a full history of your audio commands, for a more precise profile on who you are.
  • Waze shares anonymous, statistical or aggregated information collected through its service with third-parties. Even if you remain invisible to your friends on Waze, your information will continue to be collected. If you are not comfortable with this feature, you can turn it off by going to Waze’s general location settings and toggling the off button for “Location change reporting.”
  • You can integrate Waze with social network accounts such as Facebook and use the app on your smartwatch.

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