by Sarah Sargent
Girls, I admit it. I might be 15+ years older than most of you reading this, but I know we have at least one thing in common. We both LOVE our smartphones. Just a couple of years ago, I tried to convince my dad, who is also my pastor, to let me drive my whole Sunday School class in the church van back to my house because I forgot my phone. Did I mention I was the Sunday School teacher?? (I still can’t believe he said no.)
Our phones are great, but they can also be very dangerous. They can be dangerous to you because of what you are able to access, but they are also dangerous because of what you can share. The biggest dangers with smartphones lie in the information you are inadvertently sharing. In an ideal world, each of you reading this blog wouldn’t need any of the tips I’m about to share, because that means you are already safe. Unfortunately, many of the settings on smartphones are already set before you even turn on your screen, so you might not even be aware of all the different types of information you are sharing! Let’s explore some changes you can make to ensure your safety in the smartphone world.
The two worst privacy offenders on your phone are geotagging and analytics. What?? If you’ve never even heard of those two things, you’re not the only one. These two options, both in the settings on your phone, enable others to gain information about you, including where you live, go to school, and your habits.
Luckily, there are some simple changes you can make to keep you safe from sexual predators, stalkers, and anyone seeking to gain private information about you.
Geotagging is a typically automatic setting that tracks the location and time of every photo you take on your phone. When enabled, your phone will attach this information, and more, to every picture you take.
Before we get too far, let me say that disabling this feature does not prevent you from tagging your location on social media. You can still tag locations on Instagram and Facebook! Disabling geotagging will just stop your phone or tablet camera from tracking location information automatically. You might be thinking, why is this relevant and why should I disable this feature on my phone?
Information saved with geotagging will be accessible to anyone you send the photo to, or anyone who views it on social media. Here’s the brutal reality: without geotagging disabled, that cute selfie you took of you and your bestie on your bed? The one gaining likes by the hundreds from your Instagram followers? That same image has allowed the sexual predator who lives in your neighborhood to not only see the address where the photo was taken, but they can use the EXIF data from the geotag to find the exact location in the house where your bedroom is located. A stalker could spend time watching your daily patterns through your photos and learn your patterns, and use those habits to figure out the best time to approach you alone. I know I have painted a worst-case scenario for you, but this could easily become reality when you allow your phone to track your photos through geotagging.
To disable geotagging:
- Go into the settings section
- Choose Privacy, then choose Location Services.
- Scroll down and select the camera app. You will then have two options, never and while using the app. Choose the option marked never.
- Open the Camera app on your phone.
- Tap on Settings.
- Scroll down to the “Geo tags or Location tag” option and disable it.
If neither of these options work for your phone: Google “how do I turn geotagging off on a [insert phone model]” and you should be able to find instructions for your specific phone.
Advertising Trackers and Analytics
In addition to geotagging, your phone also automatically tracks other personal information, which can even be sold to developers and technology companies. Although Apple has recently cracked down on privacy rules for ads and advertisers, you need to do your part to protect your information.
A celebrity I follow on Instagram recently shared her own story of her personal cell phone number being leaked online after an app developer/advertiser bought a list of cell phone users. Unfortunately, many seemingly harmless apps on your phone can gather data from your phone, like your photos and contacts, and then sell it to advertisers or other companies. We live in a digital world, and we need to be just as cautious online as we are in “real” life. You don’t want your images and information to fall into the wrong hands simply because you didn’t do your part to prevent it. Like geotagging, you can also turn off your phone’s ability to track and share information you don’t give it permission to. Turning off these settings will also stop your phone from selling your information to businesses.
To disable ad tracking and information sharing:
- Go into the settings section
- Choose Privacy, then scroll down and choose Analytics.
- Turn off the option that says Share iPhone Analytics. (Green is on, off is not green.)
- Go back to Privacy and choose the next option: Advertising
- Turn off (not green) the option that says Limit Ad Tracking.
- Go to the settings section of your phone.
- Choose the option that says “Google Settings.”
- Every Android has it, but it is often labeled differently for different models. It could be called “Google,” “Google Settings,” or “Google Services.”
- Once you’ve found the right one, choose the “Ads” menu.
- Choose the option that says “Opt out of Ads personalization.”
- Choose OK when the confirmation box appears.
If neither of these options work for your phone: Google “how do I turn off data sharing through apps and ads on a [insert phone model]” and you should be able to find instructions for your specific phone.
The Internet, smartphones, and technology can be incredible blessings. They can also be the starting point for nightmare scenarios. Your family is working hard to keep you safe. Do your part and disable these features in your devices.
Share this blog post with your friends to help them disable these features on their phones, too!