The Lowdown on Location Tracking
Recent news headlines shouting about iPhones, iPads and Android phones tracking your every move can make you wonder if the information being transmitted from your phone is being used for nefarious means. Like that high school friend that was so fun and helpful, but secretly gossiped behind your back, or dated your ex, Smartphones have a stash of secrets that you may not know about. We’re here to help you get to know ALL sides of your Smartphone, even the darker one.
It may sound scary that your iPhone, iPad or Android phone is collecting and transmitting detailed location data back to Apple or Google. However, the truth is if you use GPS, or like to get suggestions for local restaurants, cheap gas or movie times, your device needs to pinpoint where you are. Location tracking is a necessary part of thousands of useful applications. The part that can get shady is when the data is sent back to Apple or Google, tagged with an “identifier”, and stored for weeks or months. While supposedly anonymous, this hints that Apple and Google could produce a record of your locations over a period of time if the unique “identifier” is linked back to your phone. More troublesome for iPhone, iPad, and some Android users: these devices may actually store your location history on your phone or tablet. This could allow a user’s location history to be recreated from their device, a useful tool for police and forensic experts looking to link a suspect to a crime. Not engaged in any questionable activities? Consider the potential uses to prove someone’s whereabouts in a nasty divorce proceeding or a lawsuit.
You’re probably wondering, is there a way to disable this feature? There is an application that can be installed on “jailbroken” iPhones that will wipe the data from your phone. Drop us a line if you want more information about it. If you are concerned about the data being sent to Apple or Google, you’ll have to turn off your “Location Services” and learn to live without your GPS and location-specific apps. However, the majority of us really don’t have a lot to be worried about after all. Provided you haven’t recently trekked out to the Nevada desert to bury a body, you’re probably safe letting Google keep a relatively anonymous record of your comings and goings.
Another “feature” that many users may not realize their phones have is geo-tagging photos you take with your cell phone. If you have geo-tagging activated on your phone, there is location data embedded in the photos that you take. Some people may benefit from this: consider being able to identify each of the twenty cathedrals you visit in France this summer by their geo-tagged location, instead of trying to decipher them months later by the nuanced differences in their stained glass. Pretty useful! However, photos that are uploaded to share sites (like Twitter) may maintain this information, allowing anyone who happens upon your photo online to determine the exact location where the photo was taken. While the same concerns as listed above would apply here, as a parent I’m also uncomfortable with the idea that photos I take of my son could tell someone the places he frequents. Rest a little easier knowing that most photo sharing and social networking sites currently strip geo-tagged data from posted pictures, but there is no promise that this will always be the case. Instead, consider disabling geo-tagging through your phone’s menu or photo settings so the data isn’t attached to the photo in the first place.
Finally, there are some other drawbacks to location services. While Apple and Google promise that data collected about your phone’s location is anonymous, 3rd party application creators may not be so careful. Some apps require that your phone be linked to a reported location. For example, services that pinpoint the location of your lost phone on a map require that location data be linked to your specific phone. If it is a concern, be aware of the permissions you grant each of your apps. Keep in mind that the location data collected by Apple and Google is also used to advertise to you. Did you wonder how your phone knew you were looking for shoe stores in San Jose? If that makes you uncomfortable, you can disable location-specific advertising as well.
Your Smartphone is more friend than foe, provided you manage the risks inherent in carrying your life’s data in your pocket or purse. If you’d like additional information on any of the phone modifications we’ve mentioned, drop us a note on Facebook facebook.com/nerdsoncall or email us at [email protected].
Photo by Thomas Hawk