How to Control Location Tracking in Windows 8.1

For the first time in any version of Windows, this version has location tracking. You have to tell Windows 8.1 and specific applications that it’s okay to track your location, but if you do, those apps — and Windows itself — know where you are.

Location tracking isn’t a bad technology. Like any technology, it can be used for good or not-so-good purposes, and your opinion about what’s good may differ from others’. That’s what makes a horse race. And a lawsuit or two.

Location tracking isn’t just one technology. It’s several.

If your PC has a GPS chip — they’re common in tablets, but unusual in notebooks and rare in desktops — and the GPS is turned on, and you’ve authorized a Windows app to see your location, the app can identify your PC’s location within a few feet.

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Source: Infineon

GPS is a satellite-based method for pinpointing your location. Currently two different commercial satellite clusters are commonly used — GPS (United States, two dozen satellites) and GLONASS (Russia, three dozen satellites). They travel in very specific orbits around the earth — they aren’t geosynchronous orbits, but they’re good enough to cover every patch of land on earth.

The GPS chip locates four or more satellites and calculates your location based on the distance to each.

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Source: Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research

If your Windows PC doesn’t have a GPS chip, or it isn’t turned on, but you do allow Windows apps to track your location, the best Windows can do is to approximate where your Internet connection is coming from, based on your IP address (a number that uniquely identifies your computer’s connection to the internet). And in many cases, that can be miles away from where you’re actually sitting.

When you start a Windows 8.1 app that wants to use your location — the tiled Weather app being a good, innocuous example — you see a message like this one.

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If you’ve already turned on location services, each time you add another app that wants to use your location, you see a notification that says, “Can [Windows 8.1 app] use your location?” You can respond either Allow or Block.

Blocking all location tracking in Windows 8.1

To keep Windows from using your location in any app — even if you’ve already turned on location use in some apps — follow these steps:

  1. Swipe from the right or hover your mouse in the upper-right corner to bring up the Charms bar. At the bottom, choose the Settings charm.

  2. At the bottom of the Start Settings pane, tap or click the Change PC Settings link and then select Privacy on the left. Choose Location.

    The Location Privacy screen appears.

    image3.jpg
  3. To turn off location tracking — even if you’ve already given your permission to various and sundry applications to track your location — set Let Apps Use My Location to Off.

    That’s all it takes.

Blocking location tracking in a Windows 8.1 app

If you’ve given an app permission to use your location, but want to turn it off, without throwing the big Off switch described in the preceding steps, here’s how to do it:

  1. Bring up the app you want to throttle.

    In this example, you start the Windows 8.1 Weather app.

  2. Swipe from the right or hover your mouse in the upper-right corner to bring up the Charms bar. At the bottom, choose the Settings charm.

  3. Select Permissions.

    Depending on the app, you see a screen like the one shown.

    image4.jpg
  4. Under Privacy/Allow this App to Access Your, slide the Location slider to Off.

    The app loses its permission.

Some apps keep a history of your locations, or searches that may pertain to your location. If you want to verify that’s been deleted, too, bring up the Charms bar, choose the Settings charm, and select Settings. If the app saves history files, you see a choice to Clear History and/or a slider that allows you to turn off Search History.

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