Location Tracking: A Privacy Concern

Isabell Gaylord

If you have a cellphone, you’ve probably used location tracking. Indeed, the majority of consumers are carrying a smart device that is consistently sending out private information like location data. However, smartphones are just one of the many smart devices that are transmitting extremely accurate details concerning the user’s activity and whereabouts.

This is not entirely new. Indeed, modern watches, motors, and smaller smart accessories like rings and necklaces all have GPS systems. However, this newest generation of laptops implement a much more extreme version of location tracking. When you use Google search engine or Google Maps, the GPS is on and Google instantly gathers your data.

Furthermore, social media networks work the exact same way. With the purpose of providing targeted advertising, every single social media platform is tracking your web activity.

Location Tracking Extensively Redefines the Taxi and Rideshare Industry

The average mobile device user is now extremely used to GPS services. After all, the functionality and benefits of GPS and location mapping are deeply ingrained in the lives of many professionals. Take taxi services, for example. Uber, Lyft, and local taxi drivers are taking advantage of the convenience of location tracking to simplify their job. In turns, the customer can experience convenience at a small price of giving up their location data.

Knowing where the client is located and how much time it will take him to arrive at the destination is no longer a bonus. In contrast, these days it is an absolute necessity.

GPS hasn’t become the “second nature” only for drivers. Many individuals are relying on GPS to find destinations while driving. Tourists are in deep need of these services whenever they have to find the exact location of hotels, restaurants, or any other venue that they are unfamiliar with.

Smart Devices Depend on Location Tracking

Giant corporations like Amazon and Microsoft deeply embed their location services into the smart voice assistants that they provide. Indeed, Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant are not just voice search assistants, but also expert collectors of data.

In their words, they collect data in order to “offer and improve services, such as voice search applications, Find Your Device apps, Map apps, but also to assess and monitor the accuracy and performance of their location tracking services”.

In fact, nowadays, it’s extremely rare to find a “smart” device that doesn’t integrate location tracking for their own benefit or for other third parties’ benefits.

How’s Location Tracking Data Collected?

Firstly, if your smartphone’s location services are turned on, your device is recording every single location that you’re visiting. This includes the paths that you take in order to arrive at various destinations.

Cell towers are triangulating where the users are located. Professionals refer to this practice as “Cell-Site Location Information”. Both iOS and Android operating systems track all of your information.   Additionally, the information is disturbingly accurate.

“These giants have found a way to tell whether you’re at home, at work, or at other “regular” places that you’re constantly visiting. Therefore, besides the fact that your smartphone is tracking your location, it is also identifying and classifying that location”, states Mark Howards, CEO of UK Essays and NerdyWriters.

Turning off Location Tracking Does Not Always Work

Nevertheless, the most prolific way in which companies are tracking your data is through smartphone applications.

Whenever an app receives “location tracking” permissions from the user, the data is being collected and stored without much hassle. Normally, shutting down these applications would make the problem go away. However, that is not the case.

Due to the latest news and global problems concerning location data, you may not be free from the data gathering trend even if you’re turning off all of your location sharing permissions and services. Because Android is the product of Google, phones that operate with the Android system are automatically tracking the location of the users (through cell towers) and reporting the location data to Google automatically.

The opinions are controversial. In 2017, Google has revealed that this practice is no longer existent. They said it only happened for eleven months, as a part of a beta test for the newest Android devices. They’ve also suggested that the information was never to be used or sold to third party peers.

The Main Concerns with Location Privacy

Location services is a potential blessing for the modern world. GPS is extremely effective, and it represents a significant benefit that saves users time, money, and nerves. However, it becomes a problem when various organizations leverage the collected and stored data to achieve hidden agendas and purposes. T\Indeed the misuse of data is the biggest problem associated with smart technology.

Contextual Advertising

The latest GDPR policies and directives that are applied to all 28 members of the EU are one of the biggest changes in the digital legislation. Contextual advertising has become a big problem for many social media users and not only.

Location tracking data helps third party companies improve their advertising efficiency. In turns, this contributes to their ability to manipulate the human psyche. When a company sells products to a specific demographic, they’re leveraging not just location data, as well as information like age, gender, interests, and so on.

This has sparked a revolt that has led to the implementation of the general data protection regulation (GDPR). Many companies have been found guilty of misusing personal data for various monetization and influencing purposes.

Political Campaigns

In 2013, The Washington Post called Obama the “Big Data President”. The data that was his campaign was able to collect surpassed the usual standards of data collection. Thanks to Big Data strategies, Obama’s political campaign staff was able to evaluate and classify every single voter on the basis of their habits and preferences expressed in the digital environment.

Nowadays, we’ll never know the ultra-secret partnerships between giant companies like Google and Microsoft and political candidates. When companies properly leverage data, big data professionals are able to analyze and predict the problems, needs, preferences, interests, weaknesses, and desires of the voters.

Once hackers have that information, it can be leveraged to provide political advantages that would sabotage the rules of democracy.

Police and Protests

Los without the consumer’s approval. There are many cases in which the police are obtaining location tracking data without the need for a warrant. The biggest issue is that law enforcement agencies are able to build profiles of users’ locations and behavior that can be used against them in court.

Security and Privacy Risks

Let us not forget about hackers and frauds. When data is collected chaotically and spread across many third-parties, professional hackers can take advantage of the situation to produce significant damages.

In 2019, a hacker stole personal data of over 100 million US and Canada citizens by breaching Capital One. This includes their phone numbers, names, birth dates, and addresses. While that specific hacker has been apprehended, many others will often go free or are never even identified.

Takeaways

Location tracking data is at the root of our contemporary modern lives and we’re barely paying attention to the privacy implications. Location data is extremely sensitive. It is not always a matter of individual privacy, but rather about a web of relationships. If you’re prone to a privacy attack, it’s not just you who is suffering the consequences but also everyone who you have a relationship with.

The solution? Pay extra attention to the apps you install and those you give permission to. Be aware of the implications of turning on your location services. Consider auditing your social media privacy settings to enhance privacy.

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