How to Use Geolocation Safely and Sensibly Whilst Home and Away

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There’s no debating how useful geolocation can be – especially while travelling. Mapping apps can enable you to find your way around a new city like a seasoned local, and pulling up TripAdvisor can help you find out which restaurants are worth your money and which are ghastly tourist traps.

However, it’s far from wise to blindly say “yes” every time an app asks you for permission to know your location. It’s fair to say that many apps greedily request this permission when there’s really no need for them to have it to function as intended. Each time you’re asked this question, it’s sensible to make a judgement call about who truly benefits from you revealing your geographical location. If it’s not you, then it’s likely to be somebody else.

If you take a look at the location services settings on your smartphone, you may be quite shocked as to which apps have permission to know exactly where you are.

In plenty of cases, there’s a spurious reason why an app may want your location, but not a strong enough reason for you to necessarily choose to allow it. For example, Shazam, an app that allows you to identify music tracks using your microphone, likes to know your location so you can “remember where you were when you made your greatest discoveries.” For many, that’s an unnecessary feature.

Now there’s nothing to say that there’s a sinister hidden motive every time an app wants to know where you are. In the case of Shazam, there’s nothing in their privacy policy that causes major alarm. However, it’s well known that companies are keen to collect as much data as possible on their users, and that it’s possible to analyse this data to uncover all kinds of patterns and other information. Fundamentally, the decision you need to make is whether you want to voluntarily hand over data on your every move when it’s unnecessary to do so. Surely one must wonder why anyone would choose to do that?

Geolocation Dangers

While the above hopefully addresses why it’s hard to justify a case for allowing geolocation access other than where it’s needed for an app to work properly, there are also some very real dangers associated with freely sharing your location.

It’s well documented that criminals use social media to target victims for burglary and other crimes. Avoiding this isn’t as straightforward as refraining from sharing those beach images on Facebook until returning home from a holiday. EFIX location data on digital photos can also give away location information in an undesirable way. A photo uploaded to Tumblr showing off your shiny new car can mean you’re showing a thief exactly where it’s usually parked.

Coming from another direction entirely, there may even be some occasions when having an app know where you are is exactly what you don’t want; Many regular travellers use VPN (Virtual Private Network) apps, either to access streaming TV services or to safely use public wireless networks. If such an app is being used to “spoof” a location to another country, location services could betray where you truly are.

Geolocation services are incredibly useful, but only when they’re being used for your own benefit. Unfortunately, many software developers take advantage of the fact that plenty of people don’t look at what they’re agreeing to. It’s a simple matter of principle that it makes little sense to advertise your location to a host of different companies if there’s no practical reason for them to have it. All you’re doing is adding to their “big data” and giving away information you have no need to.

So, look at your location services settings, and think about revoking some of the permissions you may have granted too readily in the past. The chances are there will be some you’re not particularly comfortable with.

 

 

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