WiFi Positioning System
WiPS is a method of device location tracking that involves the use of nearby wireless access points to determine the location of a user. This can be done in a number of ways, but the most common is through measuring wifi signal strength in relation to each nearby access point, to determine which one you are closest to. From there, the location of that access point is looked up in a database, locating the device to within a few metres.
This means that even if the location is turned off on your phone, companies can still track you throughout the day as you pass by wireless networks. To counter this, it is recommended that you turn off your WiFi when not in use.
These inexpensive little devices are often scattered throughout stores that can track your movements as you shop. Traditionally, these required an app from the store in question to be installed on the target phone to work. When you pass certain areas or products, your phone may receive a notification for an ad, or a coupon for a personalised discount
So simply don’t download apps for the stores you visit… right? Unfortunately, there’s more players to consider. The industry of third-party location marketing is booming, in line with the increased use of this individualised technology. These entities take the tracking code from those store apps, and package it up nicely to be easily bundled in with other popular apps. These popular apps could range from weather apps to social, business, health and games, the developers of which may be paid by the beacon companies in money, or data on their users. NY Times 2019
Quartz found that even after turning off Bluetooth on a Google Android device, Google can still track your location using Bluetooth Beacons.
To stop that on Google Android requires some digging through the settings to find and disable the “Scanning” or “Improve accuracy” option (depending on your device).
Google is facing legal fallout from its choice to track mobile users even when they disabled location services. The Australian Federal Court found that between 2017 & 2018 Google incorrectly claimed that the ‘location history’ option was the only way users were being tracked geographically after the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) brought the issue to light. Unfortunately users are still being tracked through the enabled-by-default “Web and App Activity” setting. Google has since clarified its position by informing users that they will continue to be tracked even when ‘location history’ is off.
ACCC 2021 | laprensalatina.com
Geofencing is the use of location indicators such as GPS, WiPS, and Bluetooth beacons to create virtual boundaries or a “fence” around an area. This could be used for convenience, with an alert displaying the grocery list shown when you are near the supermarket, or for an alert to a company that a worker has made a detour on their way to a meeting.
Geofencing also enables marketers to target people in certain locations that are more likely to purchase a product, such as people in the surrounding area of a store. Tracking technologies can then be employed to identify devices that receive the advertisement, and whether the user subsequently became a customer, with stores being able to recognise such a device on the premises.
A Government can make use of Geofencing technology to declare an area as an area of interest, or a “protest zone” and then subpoena big tech companies to reveal every user in that area. This means that if you are anywhere near that declared area, you could get caught in the crossfire, and end up on a watch list, or at the end of some pointed questions.
How To Stop Being Tracked (As Easily)
To reduce the number of parties tracking you, turn off Location, WiFi and Bluetooth when not in use (you can set a timeout to turn off automatically after a certain time on some phones). Really consider whether you need each app installed on your phone and check their permissions. If you do need certain functionality, check F-Droid first, as their open source apps do not contain trackers and every permission is verified and openly displayed on the download page.
You can also get a de-Googled Android phone. These phones do not have those hidden tracking measures included with the device, so no messing with settings is necessary for your privacy beyond following the above tips.