Is your smartphone spying on you? How tech companies track your every move

CLEVELAND - Chances are, your smartphone travels with you wherever you go. This makes them a wealth of information about you, and smartphone manufacturers are taking advantage of the opportunity to track your every move.

5 On Your Side investigators have uncovered how your smartphone outsmarts you. Whether you have an Android or an iPhone, we found your phone tracks your daily habits, even when you take steps to secure your privacy.

By signing into “Location History” on Google, Android user and 5 On Your Side Investigator Sarah Buduson was able to see how information Google was gathering about her activities. The tool showed that her phone was sharing her location with Google at all times, tracking her from home to work and back. It even included the time she arrived in each location.

At Erie Island Coffee Shop in Rocky River, Sarah showed Holly Pangrace how to access her location history.  

When she looked at what Google was tracking, Pangrace was surprised to see what Google knew about her.

"Google knows I went to Target... and Google knows I went to the gym... and Google knows I am sitting at Erie Island Coffee,” she said.

“It's nothing, like, deviant, but it's weird,” she said.

iPhones send your information to Apple in a similar way.

“No matter what you do, you have to just accept that risk that your information is in the hands of somebody else,” said Ken Smith, a computer security expert for the Cleveland global security consulting firm Secure State.

Smith said there are three ways your phone gathers information about you. “The first is obvious, and everyone knows it, it's just through the GPS functionality on the phone, where the satellite is tracking and 'Boom!' there's your location,” he said.

Smith said they're also collecting information on WiFi networks that are tied to the GPS location and then triangulated through the cell network. 

Smith said the information is used to help the companies create more ad revenue.

“The more they can find out about your daily routine, where you shop, you know, where you're eating,  where you're stopping during the day, the more information they have to target ads and to fine tune their services,” said Smith.

5 On Your Side Investigators are helping protect your privacy by uncovering how to stop Google from spying on you.

On your Android phone, go to settings, select “Location services” and then uncheck the boxes for GPS and WiFi.

It is more complicated on Apple. On Phones with iOS7, go to “Settings”, click on “Privacy”, and then click on “Location services." On the screen, you will see a list of all of the apps that know your location. Scroll down to “System services” and find “Frequent locations.” This is where you can turn off tracking.

However, you’re still being tracked. Cell phone providers also monitor your movements.

“As long as you’re connected to the cell network, you have a reasonable location estimate that the company can then track,” said Smith.

Like many smartphone users, Pangrace would not want to give up the convenience of owning a smartphone even though she is somewhat concerned about the loss of her privacy.

“I think it’s exploitive, but I think it’s inevitable and I think that you, as a consumer, have to be savvy,” she said.

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