How to Avoid Being Tracked via Your Smartphone

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This post is by Bernie Carr,

I was mulling over the news that Nordstrom has reportedly stopped tracking its customers via smartphone.  Most people were unaware that the retailer had used a program in 17 of their stores to track customers’ movements while shopping via their smartphones, between September 2012 and May 2013.   I have nothing against Nordstrom – they have great customer service – but the practice of tracking customers’ movements while shopping is an invasion of privacy.  I am glad they are no longer doing it, but it is still disturbing that companies have this ability.  They claim no personal information was collected, but who can say how this data can be aggregated or combined with other pieces of information to track, then predict your habits.  Nordstrom is not the only store that does this; other retailers have this technology. while others have various ways of monitoring you.

I know there is already an electronic trail of your purchases:  if you shop via debit or credit, if you use a store’s rewards card, or use membership cards.  But being tracked via phone is up to the minute, like having someone looking over your shoulder at all times.  Not only that, cell phone companies also profit from your loss of privacy as well.

Is there a way to avoid being tracked?

I am not an expert on the inner workings of smart phones, but from what I read, the tracking is done mainly through the phone’s WiFi signal.  

You are also tracked via GPS, and that same GPS is encoded through the photos that you take with your phone

Of course, one solution is to not use a smartphone at all, and instead use a disposable phone; however I realize most people would be unwilling to give up their smartphones.   I don’t know that there is a way to completely avoid being tracked, but there are a few things that can be done to minimize it:

  • Go to your phone’s settings and turn off the WiFi
  • Turn off the GPS unless you really need to check your location.  After you use it, turn it off.
  • Before posting photos taken with your phone, remove any personal information from the photos.
  • Find out about privacy apps that may be available for your phone and research them thoroughly
  • Speaking of apps, read the description and fine print of the app before downloading – many of the ones I was originally interested in reveal that the app collects pieces of information from your phone.
  • Pay with cash.  If you are being tracked via cameras and phone, paying with a debit or credit card gives further information on what you purchased.
  • Avoid using rewards cards with your information.  It’s hard to resist the additional discounts offered by store rewards cards, but you are giving away your privacy for a few cents.
  • Don’t sign up for deals and contests via text or by giving out your cell phone number

There are great uses for smartphones, but also some disadvantages – be aware of what the phones may be giving away and what you can do about it.  Then you can truly  decide what price you are willing to pay for convenience.

© Apartment Prepper 2013






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  1. Nordstrom’s (and other retailers) may be able to track you via wi-fi, but cellphone providers (and the fuzz, presumably) use much more basic signals. Even a basic disposable phone has these channels.

    In short, if you don’t want to be tracked, either remove the battery, or slide the phone into a Faraday bag. And make sure your credit cards are shielded too.

    1. Unless you power it all off and shield it, you are trackable. Google and others get their traffic information basically by tracking cell phones between towers — no personal information supposedly noticed, but the fact that your cell phone could make or receive a call is enough.

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