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What Are “Precise” & “Approximate” Location On Android 12?

What are precise approximate location in Android 12 DG AH 2021
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Android 12 brings some serious changes both to the UI and in terms of features but one of the biggest may be in changes to precise and approximate location data handling. Or, put more simply, the added ability to set the precision on a per-app basis. The new change added to the existing prompt-based settings and location permission management is a bigger one than many might fully grasp.

Defining “Precise” and “Approximate” location access in Android 12

Now, Google’s decision to make these settings available on a per-app basis comes with fairly straightforward reasoning. The ability to set either precise or approximate data, before Android 12, has already been in place. Before this update, the setting was applied to the entire system. But to understand exactly why the shift is monumental, it helps to understand what these two settings are, exactly.

“Precise” location data, for clarity, can gauge where a user is down to the meter. Or roughly within just over three feet. To get that metric, the system utilizes GPS data for the most part. But it also narrows things down with Wi-Fi signals and mobile signals.

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Conversely, only Wi-Fi signals and cell data are utilized for “Approximate” location data — so, unlike Precise — apps in Android 12 or otherwise can only pin down your location to within a much wider area. Typically, to within a city or, at best, within 100 meters. Or just over 328 feet.

That’s a fairly significant difference in terms of location accuracy. But it’s an important distinction. Almost no application on your mobile device is going to need to pinpoint your location within a meter. Most, in fact, will only need to know your approximate location. So adding the ability to set the metric for individual apps is likely to bring significant benefits on several levels.

How can you set location to precise or approximate in the new Android?

In terms of how, exactly, you can access the new permission setting, that’s also fairly straightforward. As noted already, Google has inserted it alongside other permissions settings. And, more importantly, as shown in the above title image, it appears by default whenever an app requests permissions. In the case of our image, it appeared when setting up the new Pikmin Bloom game from Niantic and Nintendo.

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During that request, as always, you can also choose to set location data access — approximate or precise — for the app during specific times. There’s no option to set it for “Always Allow” since that’s still relatively risky. But you can set it to only provide data access while using the app. Or just once for the current session — with the app asking each time it needs it. Or to not allow access at all.

Setting that aside, you can also easily access the new setting in the Settings app.

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. Tap on the “Privacy” option. Some OEMs do use different options or this same option under a different name. In any case, it will be under a sub-menu identical to or similar to that seen in the following step. It can also be accessed via the new Privacy Dashboard
  3. Tap on the “Permissions manager” or similarly-titled option
  4. Select “Location”
  5. Choose the app you’d like to adjust “Location” data for, from the resulting list
  6. Toggle “Use precise location” on or off
  7. Select the appropriate level of access, in terms of when the app can access that data
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01 1 What are precise approximate location in Android 12 DG AH 2021
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This makes your use of a smartphone safer, and not by a small margin

Now, as noted already, some apps do need precise location data — albeit, almost none will need it all of the time. To get the most out of the above-mentioned Pikmin game, for instance, it’s recommended that you turn on tracking all of the time. That’s so that the Pokemon-Go-like AR game can continue playing accurately in the background. After all, it’s based on map data as much as it is on steps.

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But even an application like Maps doesn’t necessarily need your real-time precise location all of the time. Although Maps still does work best if you provide it with precise location data. Even if you do require it to ask when it needs that access.

Conversely, other apps don’t require precise location data. Weather apps, for instance, and for the most part, work almost perfectly with approximate data. And that’s because the overwhelming majority of weather apps provide information on a per-city basis. Just as with providing access to other permissions, there’s no reason that the majority of apps on the Play Store should be accessing your location at all.

The sole reason that many might request it is for advertising. Although there are some other reasons an app may request it as well. And even that isn’t always for the best, as proven by malicious attacks using advertising platforms. Even legitimate apps and platforms have periodically been hijacked and used for unwanted data collection over the years. It’s more important than ever to note which apps have access to which data and when.

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All of which is to say that this change has been a long-time coming for Google. Adding the ability to choose location data accuracy, alongside choosing when an app can access the data, puts more control over safety and privacy into the hands of end-users. The fact that it appears upon the access permission request, puts that decision upfront. Rather than tucking it into often difficult-to-navigate menus.

Summarily, there are still some potential avenues for risk. But those are greatly diminished on Android 12 for those making full use of the new location data options.