Location Services: Who’s Tracking You?

Sydney's Seminar

What do you know about location services?

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.

Is this legal?

When you download an app, you typically get a series of pop-ups asking for your permission to access the features on your phone. Most apps typically ask for access to your camera and photos, your notifications, and your location. These pop-ups are misleading, though, because they don’t clarify these permissions.

Holding mobile phone with location services tracking imageTo see the details, you have to take a deep dive into their policy of terms and conditions, 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 be sending 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 may find some 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.

Woman holding location services symbol

Is there a way to opt out?

If you feel like this may be an invasion of privacy, you can opt-out of this feature. 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.

You can also always feel free to call Clark Computer Services at 301-456-6931, and we can turn these settings off for you.

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