Your phone apps are tracking you. Here’s how to stop them.

Have you ever searched for something on your phone, like a new shirt, plane ticket or computer, then get the sinking feeling you’re being followed online with ads for the same product for the next few days?

You’re not alone. Your phone apps are helping marketers target and track you across the internet. For some, it’s a useful way to see products you might purchase. For others, it feels like an invasion of privacy.

Here are a few simple tips to protect your privacy and prevent these apps from tracking you online.

Turn off app tracking

A new feature built into iOS 14.5 released this April was App Tracking Transparency, which allows you to give explicit permission to apps to share your data, location and other identifiers that can allow third parties to serve you with targeted ads. Here’s how to manage this new feature:

  • For new apps that you download, you will automatically receive a pop-up notification upon opening that asks if you would like the app to track your activity and explains how it will use your data. You can choose Ask App not to Track or Allow.
  • For apps that you have already downloaded and use, you can control tracking permissions on an app-by-app basis. Go to Settings > Privacy > Tracking, and for each app in the list, you can choose which apps to allow or prevent tracking.
  • You can turn off app tracking altogether by going to Settings > Privacy > Tracking, and turning off Allow Apps to Request to Track. This should prevent new apps from tracking by default and stop current apps from tracking you.

If you have an Android phone, this feature is not available to you — at least not yet. Google has announced that it will start allowing users to opt-out of ad tracking sometime in late 2021 for devices that run Android 12. Android users can still turn off ads personalization in the Google ad network by going to Settings > Google > Ads and toggling off Opt out of Ads Personalization.

Turn off location tracking (iOS and Android)

Sharing your location data with certain apps is absolutely essential for the app to work properly, like navigation and map apps, rideshare apps, or weather apps. Sharing your location data for apps like these is pretty helpful, if not critical, to ensure the best experience.

But marketers can also use your geolocation data to target you with advertisements. If you’d like to read more, check out this visual explanation from the Boston Globe on how it all works.

If you’d like to control how you share your location data, here’s how:

  • In iOS, go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services. Here, you will see a list of all the apps that have asked to access your location data. Choose the app you’d like to change permissions for, and select Never, Ask Next Time, While Using the App, or Always.
  • Alternatively, you can also toggle Location Services to Off, but that could prevent some of your apps from not being able to function properly.
  • For Android devices (this will be dependent on your device manufacturer and Android version), go to Settings > Location > App Permissions. Choose the specific app you’d like to change and choose Deny.
  • You can also disable location services altogether by going to Settings > Location > App Permissions and toggling off the Location at the top of the menu.

Turn off access to your phone’s microphone

It’s all happened to us: We’re having a conversation with friends about the latest TV show or gadget, and then we see an ad on our phone soon after. It really seems like our phone was listening to us. Many people have reported this exact same experience, too, yet app developers claim they do not use ambient noise from our phone’s microphones to determine which ads to show users. 

If you’re concerned that your phone is listening to you, you can turn off microphone access app-by-app. Here’s how:

  • In iOS, go to Settings > Privacy > Microphone. You will see a list of all the apps that have requested access to your device’s microphone. Toggle which app you’d like to turn on or off.
  • You can also turn off Siri, Apple’s voice assistant, which also uses your microphone. Go to Settings > Siri & Search. Toggle off Listen for “Hey Siri” and Press Side Button for Siri.
  • For Android devices (this will be dependent on your device manufacturer and Android version), go to Settings > Privacy > App Permissions > Microphone and choose which apps you’d like to turn on or off.
  • You can also turn off Google Assistant. Go to Settings > Google > Account Services > Search > Voice > Voice Match and turn it off.

If you want another layer to protect your data from advertisers, consider joining CREDO Mobile. CREDO customers never have to worry that their data is for sale. As a carrier, we don’t share your cell phone usage data with advertisers. In fact, data privacy is at the core of our business, and CREDO customers can rest assured that we take your privacy very seriously.

Click here to learn more about how CREDO protects your data — and how other major carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile do not.