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8/26/2014
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Location Tracking: 6 Social App Settings To Check

Popular social apps, including Facebook, Google, Foursquare, and Twitter, may track your every move. Get the lowdown -- and instructions for turning off these options.

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Late last year, the Federal Trade Commission fined one of Android's most popular apps, called Brightest Flashlight Free, after an investigation found that the app tracked and sold users' precise location information without their consent.

While the app's privacy policy disclosed that it collected this sort of data, it didn't warn users that it routinely shared this information with third parties. Goldenshores Technologies, the maker of the app, was later forced to delete all the information it had collected.

Passive location tracking, in which applications track where you are even when you're not using the app, has grown in popularity. Users often agree to these location services when downloading the app or speeding through permission pop-ups.

[Facebook's latest privacy changes include welcome improvements. Read Facebook Privacy: 10 Settings To Check.]

Facebook, for example, uses this technology in an opt-in feature called Nearby Friends, which pinpoints your location on a map so your friends can see where you are. Foursquare uses passive location tracking to push deals and recommendations to your device when you're near a restaurant that matches your interests, and Google tracks your daily movements on a map "to improve search results."

But in the era of NSA and government data requests, not everyone is comfortable with companies tracking their every move. In a report on location-based services published last year, Pew Research found that while there was notable growth in the number of social media users who set their accounts to include location in their posts, 35% of adult users said they have turned off location-tracking features on their phones because they were worried about other people or companies accessing this information.

But opting out of these settings isn't always easy. Here's a look into how Google, Facebook, Messenger, Foursquare, Swarm, and Twitter track your location, plus instructions for disabling the location-tracking features.

Google
Google, like many other apps and websites, knows a lot about you: your demographics, interests, and online browsing habits, for example. But one thing you may not realize Google tracks is every place you and your phone travel to, with surprising (and creepy) accuracy.

Take a look at Google's location-tracking site and log in with your account credentials. Some users may see a blank map, but others will see detailed routes outlined in red depicting exactly where you have been. You can use the calendar on the left to sort your movements by a specific day or hover over a point on the map to see what time you were there.

Google says it tracks this information to "use it to improve your search results based on the places you've been." If you're not comfortable with Google knowing your every move, you can turn it off and delete your history.

Visit your Account History page to turn this setting off. After you log in, select the "Places you've been" option, then click Pause to turn it off. To delete your entire location history, visit your Location History page and select "Delete all history." You can also delete your history for certain days by 

Kristin Burnham currently serves as InformationWeek.com's Senior Editor, covering social media, social business, IT leadership and IT careers. Prior to joining InformationWeek in July 2013, she served in a number of roles at CIO magazine and CIO.com, most recently as senior ... View Full Bio

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vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
8/26/2014 | 8:36:43 PM
Re: Facebook the invader
I clicked on Facebooks Find Friends option for the heck of it - just to see how up front it was going to be with how it works.  One thing I noticed immediately - once I decided I didn't want to go any further it made it pretty much impossible to get out of it.  I could see where some people would think they would have no other choice but to opt in once they are in there.  Totally sketch.
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
8/26/2014 | 8:00:42 PM
Re: Facebook the invader
I agree that Facebook is the most invader of all.  I guess that using all these social media apps comes at a huge price, ones privacy.  The price is giving up your privacy to not just the company, but to third parties.  I really think there should be some government regulation which forces social media companies to at least have the default setting of opt out or have a huge message saying to user that their location is being sold to third parties. 
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
8/26/2014 | 4:41:03 PM
Re: Facebook the invader
I wasn't as surprised by Facebook as I was by Foursquare/Swarm. The Foursquare/Swarm location tracking is a sneaky change since it never opted you in automatically before the app redesigns. 
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
8/26/2014 | 2:58:30 PM
Facebook the invader
Of all the social networking sites, I think facebook is the most agressive and invasive. Not only does it collect data (by default settings) from users, it also makes apps take advantage of such data to give us statistics about something. Facebook apps are the most disturbing. While in the name of being fun (e.g. some apps display the number of beers you can drink before collapsing) these apps collect data and only God knows what it does with them.
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
8/26/2014 | 2:53:18 PM
Re: Facebook
The facebook app seems to make enough location data even with preferences set to minimum. It displays the location of the user correct to 5 kilometres in chatboxes. 
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
8/26/2014 | 12:08:03 PM
Re: Facebook
If you have location services turned on, your Facebook app will attach a city/state to your update, too, unless you delete it before you post something. The same is true when you use Facebook from a desktop. Facebook won't map your exact location in either of these instances, but it's still something to be wary of.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
8/26/2014 | 11:47:58 AM
Facebook
Facebook Messenger opt-out location tracking for chat: Bad call. One more reason I won't choose to download the new Messenger app.
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