Why Your Location Data Isn’t as Private as You Thought

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Our smartphones are powerful devices that have become a crucial aspect of our everyday lives. Most people know that phones have apps and settings that keep tabs on our location, and despite knowing this data is being used by companies to develop targeted advertisements, we continue to use them. 

However, a recent investigation by The New York Times sheds some light on how this data is being stored and surprise surprise, that data isn’t as private as we thought. The investigation shows how our location data is being collected by a slew of devices, services, apps, and websites which is then passed along to private-data collection companies. The data is then dumped into massive databases, where it can be used by anyone with access. 

Investigators at The Times were given access to one of these databases that included data collected from more than 12 million devices from 2016 to 2017. The collected devices comprised of more than 50 billion individual locations pinged from geographic areas around the globe. The data easily pinpointed precise points identifiable on a satellite map, giving anyone incredibly detailed information on a person’s whereabouts.

The scary part is that while much of the data has been stripped by personal information, there is still the potential of someone isolating the data of a single device if they knew an adequate amount of information about a person. The Times uncovered that if you were to access these files and have information about the specific location of a person device, it would be possible to obtain the complete location history of any device. 

With this power, it is not difficult to imagine how this could be used by nefarious parties to implement an all-encompassing authoritarian regime without anyone even knowing. This is similar to what is already happening in China, where citizens every single move is tracked by a broad surveillance state. The difference in America is that instead of the government, we have willingly given this information over to corporations who in return have given us the means to continue our obsession with the digital world. 

Luckily, there are some things you can do to protect yourself from having your location data being hijacked. 

  • Turn off your phones location tracking 
  • Review the apps that have permission to track and store your data 
  • Use open-source mobile browsers that don’t store your data
  • Use incognito mode when using driving apps like Google Maps

Avid writer and reader with a curious mind. I'm always looking to get the most out of life! Follow me on Twitter @whatsaschoon

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