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Posted on April 24, 2015 by in Identity & Privacy, Personal

Recently, when I checked my phone before leaving work, I was surprised to see an alert about a long commute home due to a backup on a nearby highway. While I was grateful for the tip, I hadn’t opened an app or visited a local traffic site. The unsolicited note got me thinking: Exactly what information is my phone keeping tabs on?

It turns out that my phone tracks a lot of things, and some of that information is shared with third parties. In fact, it’s easy to find yourself sharing personal data without even knowing it. And you may not even realize it until that tracked information gets used for other purposes, like sending an alert about road construction.

These days, cell phone privacy is without question a legitimate concern. As a result, you should be taking steps to protect yourself from identity theft. Knowing what’s being collected and shared can help lower your privacy risks.

What’s Being Tracked?

The exact information being gathered depends on the type of phone you have, but these tracking options apply across most phone brands:

  • Location: Your phone uses location tracking for a number of apps, such as GPS services or weather. But this type of tracking can also allow third-party companies to deliver location-specific advertising to your phone. Manufacturers like Apple have noted that location data isn’t tied to individual users, but this still raises a red flag if you worry about identity theft.
  • Seemingly non-personal information: In the Apple user agreement, there’s a statement noting that the company can collect, use, transfer and disclose “non-personal” information for any purpose. This data, however, can feel personal to many people, since it may include zip code and even your occupation.
  • Websites you visit: Even simple programs like a flashlight app can have a privacy policy noting it may track which websites you browse — even though the app doesn’t need that information to function.

How to Protect Yourself

When considering how to improve cell phone privacy, the first step is simply being aware of how “smart” your smartphone is. When you begin seeing online coupons for the store you just entered or ads based on apps you use frequently, it may be time to take a closer look at what you’re downloading.

Be sure to read through the terms and conditions before downloading a new app, and look for policies about information collection. If the data gathering seems too intensive, reconsider whether you really need that app.

Also, disable your location services, GPS and Bluetooth when you’re not using them. That will limit the reach of apps that might be working in the background to track your phone.

Taking a few extra measures to enhance cell phone privacy can limit the amount of information being collected about you and may even help you protect yourself from identity theft.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Omar Jordan Fawahl.