Location Services: Who is tracking you?
Did you know that your phone and mobile devices are tracking you? We’ve all seen the jokes on the internet about the “FBI Agent in your phone,” and while they are pretty funny, the FBI doesn’t check your phone unless you’re engaged in highly illegal activities. And yet, you and your behaviors are tracked every day. It’s true, and it happens to everyone who carries a smartphone. No, it’s not the FBI that’s tracking you – it’s the apps installed on your phone.
In this blog, I’m going to talk about the legality of it, who would want your location information, whether or not you should be concerned about it, and how you can stop it.
IS TRACKING LEGAL?
When you download an app, you typically get a series of pop-ups asking for permission to access the features on your phone. Most apps usually request access to your camera, photos, notifications, and location. These pop-ups are misleading, though, because they don’t clarify these permissions. To see the details, you have to take a deep dive into their terms and conditions policy, and who has time for that?
As soon as you agree to let the app use your location services, per the fine print, you’re allowing them to track your location. Now, the app might be using that information in its basic functionality. For example, a weather app may send you weather alerts based on your current location. What you may not know, though, is that many apps want access to your location so they can sell that information to companies like Cuebiq, CARTO, and Radar Labs, among others.
WHO WOULD WANT MY LOCATIONS?
Many companies find it highly beneficial to know where people are going and for how long. One reason is to tailor advertisements specifically to you. If the company notices that you spend a few hours every weekend at the mall, it makes sense to show you advertisements for retailers with locations in that mall. Combing your behavior with tailored ads makes marketing more effective and is more likely to end in a purchase.
SHOULD I BE WORRIED ABOUT THIS?
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. Very few of us read terms and conditions, and most companies know this, so it comes down to personal preference on whether sharing this location data is a breach of privacy or a helpful tool. While some would say it’s too invasive, others might appreciate targeted advertising being relevant to them and their needs.
You might find comfort in knowing that the companies selling your location data don’t typically sell the raw data. This means that the information sold is an aggregate set of data for large groups of people. In addition, the data set excludes identifying information such as names and phone numbers.
IS THERE A WAY TO STOP THIS?
If you feel like this may be an invasion of privacy, you can opt-out of this location tracking feature. The instructions are a little different per device, and while I can’t list all of them here, I will provide you with two of the most common.
If you have an Apple device, go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services and turn off Location Services or scroll down and set Allow Location Access to Never in each of the apps listed.
For Androids, open Settings > Applications > Google > Ads and then opt out of interest-based ads.
For other devices, or if you have difficulties, click here for step-by-step instructions for turning off these features. Also, the NY Times posted a great article detailing the process of location-based advertising. To read more, check out this link.
Being raised by Clark’s owner, Darren, I have always been immersed in the world of technology. However, I have always followed it from a distance. I went to college to get my degree in Business Finance and Applied Economics, as I have always been a fan of research and statistics. I was even lucky enough to get my senior thesis in economics published. My next string of luck was getting a job straight out of college as a Researcher in Richmond, VA. I was able to pursue research and publish dozens of news articles in my field. Now, I am so excited to delve back into the world of technology that I was raised in, and look forward to honing my research in the technological field.