How To Turn Off Your 'Precise Location' on Instagram

Your iPhone—or your child's—likely has a new “precise location" setting automatically turned on after a recent update, letting anyone know exactly where you are at any given time. Here's how to change that.

young boy is playing with his smart phone alone in empty tram public transportation
Photo: Getty

As a modern parent, a smartphone can be an incredible tool for keeping the chaos of raising a family relatively smooth. With a few quick swipes and taps, you can schedule that dentist appointment, order another pair of sneakers, and share your latest photos with friends and family. But while we may love—and heavily rely on—our phones to run our worlds, how many among us remember to check the settings every time there's a new system update?

In a viral Instagram post, a popular social media coach who goes by the name @Myanichol is warning iPhone users that a recent system update includes a privacy setting that allows anyone to see your precise location when you post on social media apps like Facebook and Instagram.

"If you have an iPhone, listen up!" the post reads. "After a recent IOS update, People can now find your exact location from Instagram! For example: if you put the location tag as "Salt Lake City" it will show your exact location vs a general location. There are allegedly stalkers and criminals using this feature to find people and break into homes & cars."

The post then talks users through how to shut this feature off by heading to your phone settings, then Instagram, then swiping off the options for "precise location." Follow the same steps for Facebook, Snapchat, and other apps.

This feature is not unique to iPhone users, though. If you have an Android, you can head to your settings, and under "Personal," you should find your "Location" settings, where you can shut off the precise location option.

There are three main ways that your smartphone can track you:

  • Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Geotags
  • Wi-Fi access points and/or cell towers

Your phone, the miracle gadget it is, has all three tracking methods available for use at any time. Most of us are not savvy enough with our phones to know when they are on, how they work, or how to edit what they have access to in our daily, private lives.

Geotagging is when your photos online include longitude and latitude mapping points to let others know exactly where the picture was taken. You may not realize it, but when you check in on Facebook, geotagging is used. Similarly, when you tag a photo on Instagram with a location, the app geotags the post.

One problem with geotagging is that anyone from data theft criminals to human traffickers (and even just nosy neighbors) can quickly learn where you are, potentially putting your safety in jeopardy. For example, some criminals will use those check-in status updates for public spaces like an upscale shop or restaurant to follow someone home and then rob them.

According to @MyaNichol's Instagram post, there are a few smart things you can do to boost your digital safety:

  • Never share images of the outside of your home or identifying images like your mailbox or your car's license plate.
  • If you plan to post about a concert, restaurant, or some other experience you had, be sure to wait until the experience is over and you've left that location before you post.
  • Avoid clicking on any links within a social media post unless you trust the source.
  • When using social media, shut off the activity status so other users can't see when you're online (or off).
  • Never share your personal information online, including your birthday, address, and phone number.
  • Don't hesitate to block anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable online, especially on social media.
  • Do a security check on all your social media apps regularly to ensure your private information is secure and that you understand how much access strangers have to you and your data.

Some apps will need your location to work correctly. Suppose you plan to use any mapping app for driving directions or apps that give you customized weather reports, for example. In that case, you'll need to be able to let them know where you are. For these types of apps, you can select the option to use location services only while using that particular app. That way, the apps cannot collect your location data in the background when not in use.

According to Common Sense Media, location services on phones have a few potential issues, including unwittingly being followed by strangers and becoming targeted by advertisers. For example, they point out that walking past a store can trigger a sale alert to show up on your teen's phone. Common Sense Media suggests the following ideas to help keep your kids safe:

  • If your kid is on social media, make sure you follow each other.
  • Make sure your child has strict privacy settings activated.
  • Teach your kid not to post their location details, including check-ins, on social media.
  • Keep talking about online safety, so it becomes part of your family culture.

You don't have to live in a digital cave to safely use your smartphone and stay plugged into your online life. But you can use the settings on your phone to restrict who can access your data and how that data gets used, including where you are at any given moment. Make sure to talk to your kids about what is appropriate to share online and when to get help if something seems weird or unsafe. With just a little bit of effort and vigilance, you can feel safe using tech no matter where you are.

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