Finding a nearby movie theater with the help of an app, using a maps feature on your smartphone to get where you need to go and “checking in” to a restaurant on social media to score a free appetizer are all helpful and fun features in today’s digital age.
Yet, they all share one worrisome common denominator: the sharing of personal information, including your location.
While many of today’s smartphone features benefit you in the moment, it’s the information left behind that can leave a digital footprint of your habits and interests — and can alert burglars when you’re out of town or give stalkers data to harm someone. The implications and dangers of sharing geo-related information has long been warned about in the media and by government officials, including California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Federal Trade Commission Consumer Protection Bureau Director Jessica Rich, who have urged smartphone users to turn off automatic geo-location services to protect themselves and to be vigilant about sharing sensitive personal data online.
While you may not know it, many of today’s smartphone apps use geo-location services to collect demographic data. Be mindful of these three tips to protect yourself and your identity.
Turn Off GPS
If you’re not using an app that needs your location, such as Apple Maps, turn off your smartphone’s GPS feature, and only turn it on when you immediately need it. This includes GPS for all apps, as well as your smartphone camera.
Be wary about using apps that require your location to work, including Grindr and Find My Friends, an iOS app which allows your contacts to see your location in real time. Apps like these have been used by everyone from jealous exes to concerned parents to spy on their former or current contacts. For additional security, providers such as LifeLock combat fraud in cases of identity theft based on location sharing and data breaches.
Be Mindful of Sharing
If you want to share content online and also tie it to a location, first consider whether you’re OK with alerting others online to possible patterns or trends regarding the locations you visit. If you still want to share the location, consider doing so once you’re back home to protect yourself from robbery, or once you’ve moved away from the location to protect yourself from criminals or stalkers.
Some apps have varying privacy settings that allow you to share your location only with specified users. Carefully read the terms of agreement of each app you use to only share your location with people whom you trust.
Protect Yourself, Protect Others
Besides taking steps to keep your own privacy secure, consider the safety of children and friends who are also connected to your networks and who might be featured in the content you’re sharing. While you may feel safe and secure about alerting the world about your location, it can be disrespectful and dangerous to share the location of minors, those who work to limit their presence online and those who simply don’t want their location shared. Always ask permission before you share a location.
Any photo or video you are tagged in online may be shared as well, which makes it imperative for you to be aware that any digital content you’re featured in may be used for purposes of which you’re not always fully aware. Truthfully, only get in on that selfie shot if you trust the person and know your location will not be shared without your permission.