What to Know about Location Tracking

November 24, 2020 by Loren Lachapelle

What to Know about Location Tracking

In today’s world, it can be time consuming to keep up with the current cyberthreat landscape, especially when many public sector agencies do not have dedicated security staff. However, the landscape changes daily, and it’s important to be aware of what’s happening in the digital world that surrounds you.

Let’s explore location tracking, an emerging (and constantly changing) privacy concern.

What is location tracking?

Location tracking is a feature on our smart devices that has developed over the years. It can trace where a given device is, how it’s moving, and creates a record of those movements over time. As long as a device is connected, it can record locations. The most common example of location tracking is on your cell phone – which connects to cell towers, Wi-Fi, and GPS.

Unfortunately, the idea that data collection via location tracking can be kept anonymous is somewhat of a misconception. It’s true that so much data is being generated and collected that sorting through all of it manually would be nearly impossible. On the other hand, it’s easy to build and search for certain profile types then investigate further from there. For example, hackers usually collect this location information to steal people’s identity, or to potentially craft phishing attacks to con them into clicking on something malicious.

Although there are many legitimate applications relying on location data in order to function (like weather apps or Google Maps), not all apps are explicit about telling you if they’re collecting location data. Unlike weather and GPS apps, social media platforms, for example, will force users to share their location, and some will even collect information in the background even when the app isn’t being used.

Privacy Concerns

There are risks with location tracking. Once the information is out there, it can’t be reverted, so there are huge privacy concerns.

To illustrate these privacy concerns, let’s explore an all too common example many people (and probably even yourself) run into. As we have learned, these apps gather information about people’s travels in great detail. To take it a step further, the companies who collect the data often use, analyze, and sell the data to provide details to advertisers and online retailers. They use location tracking to monitor consumer behavior – as a result, companies will serve up ads to your connected devices.

Furthermore, because this data could get sold for advertising purposes, there is always the chance it could get scooped up by a bad actor, who could then target people with specific ads based on consumer behavior, then get them to click on the ad, which could take them to a malicious site.

Although there are numerous privacy concerns with location tracking, advertising (and malvertsing) and business and government collection of data is the main privacy concern. For that reason, it’s important to always be mindful of which ads you click and which apps you allow to track your location.

How can you protect against location tracking?

To protect your privacy, make sure to limit in your apps as much as possible. Understand what the app does and then make sure the app only has access to what it needs. For example, if an app (such as Solitaire) wants to know your location but there is really no reason it needs that information, you should probably delete the app altogether. If you have apps built-in to your phone such as “Find my iPhone” for finding a lost device, it’s best to turn those settings completely off. And if you are really serious about your privacy, try to avoid apps that ask for any location at all, and always remember to delete any that are unnecessary. For more information on how to protect yourself from location tracking, read this recent NSA article.

Although there are privacy protection laws in place, sometimes, they are not always completely adhered to – especially if you’re dealing with a nefarious person. That’s why it’s important to always be cognizant of the personal and professional information you are putting out there – whether that be within your applications or any other online account or business.

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