Which one of these is more effective in tracking your daily activities: A Russian spy or your smartphone? Not too long ago the answer probably would have been the former, but today, our smartphones have become 24/7 tracking devices. Worse, the personal information obtained from them is sold to other companies. Businesses are claiming it’s anonymous, but a New York Times study proves just how personal the information being shared may be.
Smartphone users enable location services to better serve their needs while using specific “apps.” The weather channel and GPS apps as an example, need your location to provide the accurate and personalized data you desire. I mean, how else is Waze getting you home if it doesn’t know where you are? The issue is not the tracking, it is the fact most users are unaware the information is being collected, collated, parsed and sold.
For those who think they are safe by turning off their location services, we are sorry to say. Your ignorance of the tracking occurring does not mean it is not happening. A 2018 Princeton study says that smartphones’ locations can still be tracked, even if all location services and GPS have been turned off. A security exploit uses a mix of phone and non-phone information sources to track a device’s location, suggesting your location may not be as secure as you thought.
With the help of location services, a large portion of our lives becomes public, whether you realize that or not. Let us not forget that sensitive information can fall into the wrong hands. Whether companies do or do not have malicious intentions, the thought of someone figuring out your entire lifestyle based on a moving dot, simply does not sit well. Privacy is at stake, but more importantly, so is a peace of mind. Several senators have called on Congress to address the threats stemming from sharing location services, but this is a battle that large corporations will not lose without putting up a fight.
So, what’s at stake? Location details may reveal even the most personal things about you: your doctors office, a best friends house, your moms place of work, etc. In New York, a database of more than one million phones showed that locations can be tracked and saved as often as every two seconds. Imagine if our parents had this kind of access to our whereabouts when we were kids? Lying would be completely out of the question.
Your Habits, Their Profits
With the heavy details of your whereabouts an advertiser can bombard you with coupons whether it be in the form of emails or snail mail. Everyone loves a good deal, but sometimes we make impulse purchases based on the amount of money that we think we can “save”. Your location gives away the stores, shops, restaurants, and buildings that you frequent most, and advertisers see this as an opportunity to profit off you. Also, have you realized that random ads start showing up on your social media platforms even though you never said anything about going somewhere or buying a specific product? That is the work of location services, ladies and gentlemen.
Companies claim they are interested in understanding a consumer’s daily patterns rather than prying on his/her personal identity. They explain that it is not your name or personal phone number that is identified by the location apps, rather a unique ID. Essentially, you have an alias, that you didn’t create. So, with access to your every day and/or frequent locations, businesses have been very successful with the sales of location-targeted advertising, an industry estimated to reach $21 billion this year. Because as always, money is the motive for everything. IBM, Foursquare, and Goldman Sachs are all among the industries newest investors.
Although the location apps don’t specifically list individual first and last names, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out how to put a name to the unique ID. Selecting a random bot and monitoring its daily actions, such as where the person sleeps and works, will give away major clues. You don’t have to be a Russian spy to google an address and find out who the homeowners are and what they do for a living. Thus, we encourage everyone to read even the finest print because you never know who may be tracking you.
App owners will argue that they disclose information to the consumer in their privacy statements, but conveniently, it can only be found buried in a vague policy you would need to be an attorney to understand. And, you can never track one down when you need them.