What Location Tracking Apps Know About You and Why You Should Care

Are you okay with apps tracking where you live or work? How about where you eat? If you trust the brand and don’t mind, that’s one thing. Unfortunately, brands you don’t even know are tracking you too. How does that sit with you?

From navigating daily life destinations to optimizing asset usage, geolocation is an undeniably helpful technology that has benefitted us since day one. However, with such a powerful technology, comes the inevitable precaution to use and handle it.

What is Geolocation?

Before we dive right into the more complicated information, it is important to establish a basic understanding of what geolocation is. Geolocation refers to the technology that is used to identify certain geographic locations with an internet-connected device. 

A common misconception about geolocation technology is that it is tracking them (the person). However, the technology is only able to track the device that is connected to the internet and not your person. 

Location Tracking on Mobile Apps

While using geolocation services in mobile apps such as Google Maps, Yelp, and even Facebook have provided a certain level of convenience to our lives, there is still a risk factor involved. Both iOS and Android devices are capable of utilizing the location tracking capabilities, and with an increase in exploits from these geolocation data and tracking, it has become a big controversy on whether or not the convenience provided by this technology is worth the trade-off to our privacy. 

One of the biggest controversies regarding devices and geolocation tracking in mobile apps is User Permission. Most apps require that the end-user click and state that they understand how the app operates behind the scene and ask for certain permissions. One of the most common permissions that are required for many apps to operate is Location tracking permission. In order to better protect yourself and establish caution, you’ll need to learn what kind of location data is being shared online. This type of data could potentially pose a threat to your online privacy and personal privacy. 

How do Companies and Apps Track You?

A lot of entities such as corporations and businesses have a vested interest in understanding and knowing your location data. The data can be used from anything from marketing ventures to more malicious intents. So how do these entities track your data and location?

Your devices are the gateway for you to explore the world from the comfort of whenever you are. And similar to a gate, it can be open to both ends. Depending on what kind of device you use, people and companies can use your IP address to narrow your location. If you are using a mobile device, your GPS location, Wi-Fi signal, and even Bluetooth can be used to pinpoint your device location. 

Most apps these days such as Yelp, Google Maps, Facebook, Instagram, and Uber use location tracking services. While some of these companies do use the data from your location sharing to help improve your experience, many of them continue to track you even when you are not using their app. 

What Information does Geotracking reveal?

While you might think that geo-tracking only reveals certain places that you visit or go to, it is much more complicated than that. Geotracking can track your location data to discover quite a lot of information about you. These include:

  • Where you work
  • Where you live
  • Where you eat (frequent restaurants)
  • Where you go out for fun
  • Your lifestyle (based on the destinations to frequent)
  • Your estimated income (based on the city you live in)

And there is so much more information that can be derived from the location data that is being tracked. In addition, it can compromise your physical address which in turn can lead to potential threats to not only your online privacy but also to your physical body. 

This data is extremely valuable to corporations and marketing companies who want to target different audiences. In 2018, Google was sued for over tracking user location data according to the Associated Press

How to Turn off App Tracking

Whether you like it or not, apps are going to continue on tracking your location data and other data as long as you use them. However, there is a way to help secure yourself and turn off some of the app tracking capabilities. Here are the ways to do it on an android and iOS device:

Android Devices

Go to your SETTINGS >> LOCATION >> Turn off the location tracking 

iOS Devices

Go to SETTINGS >> PRIVACY >> TRACKING>> Turn off “Allow App to Request to Track” 

In order to protect yourself, you will be required to become more proactive in taking precautions. So do your homework with the app permissions and only install apps that you trust. 

Useful Tips to Prevent your Location Data from being Tracked and Exploited

  • Do NOT give websites or apps permission to access your location data without a valid reason
  • Always remember to read the terms and conditions regarding your privacy (and do your research on a particular app or website)
  • While iOS devices give an indication of when an app uses location tracking on the device, android devices do not have this capability (Android users beware)
  • Do regular check-ups on your devices to see which apps are using the location sharing feature and if it is meant to do that. 

Regular caution when using apps and websites can oftentimes prevent a lot of unnecessary threats and confusion. Excercise them frequently and always be cautious about these apps.

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