Privacy Implications From Your Location Aware Mobile

June 24th, 2014 in Social Media 4 minute read

The fast-paced, exciting digital world we live in today opens up countless opportunities for the human race to communicate more efficiently. I am able to keep in touch with my friend Patrick whilst he is in Australia for the year whilst an early earthquake warning system can alert the shores of Indonesia of an imminent tsunami. I can attempt to find a new girlfriend through Tinder, whilst an allergy warning service can alert you to high pollen levels in your area simply by using your phones location.

On May 1st, 2000, the US government lifted the restriction of the public from the Global Positioning System (GPS). What this brought to the market was accurate mapping and direction applications, dating apps which use ones location to give a radius of ‘local singles’ and social media enabling users to ‘check-in’ to their location.

The Internet is a 24-hour medium where anyone can post, comment and read content at anytime from anywhere in the world. With GPS encouraging more accurate location services through Facebook and Twitter, the most personal information which we can regularly share is in fact our location.

I recently took a train journey between Leeds and Sheffield and the lady to my rights’ phone activity caught my interest. As we left the station the lady took out her iPhone, she opened up the Facebook app and updated her status to ‘Travelling from Leeds to Sheffield’ and nothing else. The Facebook app facilitates this update by having pre-set train stations for her to simply tap on. Two points here I thought were of particular interest. Firstly I wondered why she did this without explaining anything else. The lady was not already on the Facebook app or on her iPhone, so she consciously decided to get her phone out and set this as her status. Secondly she did not add anything else to her update, it seemed the lady thought it was important to update her online self.

Both Facebook and Twitter allow the user to add their current location to their posts or tweets, or enable users to ‘check in’ to points of interest around their current location. The lady on the train felt the need to update her location and I can only assume she was planning on doing this again on the next leg of her journey. Does this not seem unnecessarily dangerous to advertise exactly where you are going? This, along with the plethora of other personal information which can be found about you through Facebook, is asking for trouble.

Facebook’s privacy settings have been central to many news stories in recent years. A user can now very easily see who can view their updates and personal information, but this was not always the case. Updates to the Facebook software in previous years automatically flipped some privacy settings to ‘public’ by default. If this setting remains public then anyone can view your profile, your updates and potentially your exact location.

Another app which could pose a problem to users is Tinder. The popular dating app uses the users’ location to find other local singles within a radius of a pre-set distance. Upon viewing another users’ bio and images, you are also told how far away the person is from your current location. This information is given as accurately as ‘2.1km Away’, for example. What is stopping a user from moving between ‘2.1km Away’ and ‘2.2km Away’ in a circle? Through this method one could in theory pin point the other person’s exact location. Something a bit more technical, but similar was actually done by ‘IncludeSecurity’. Check it out: http://blog.includesecurity.com/2014/02/how-i-was-able-to-track-location-of-any.html.

What is stopping people from considering the implications of advertising their location then? In the year 2014, you will struggle to find anyone who grew up with mobile technologies not having the device on them at all times. The discrete little vibration in your front pocket alerting you of a notification will instantly take you from what you are doing in the real world to the digital world. We input so much personal information about us into our phones that a level of trust is almost innate within us. We trust our phones to wake us up in the morning, to tell us of upcoming birthdays, to tell us the weather, to be our calculator, the list could go on. This immersion creates the illusion of trust that whatever information we give through our mobiles will be safe and that there will be no implications.

I love the Internet. Modern technologies in the 21st Century are a cause for celebration. Never before have we been so close to one another on our planet. As we reach mid-way through 2014 we have well over a third of the world’s population actively using the Internet. This means that as a worldwide population we rely on the Internet for everyday activities and it becomes so intertwined with our daily life that we begin to forget who is controlling this personal information about us. It is the 24-hour internet and the constant news feed we get through Facebook and Twitter which creates this illusion of control. It is this illusion of control which encourages users to update personal information about themselves without considering who the audience may be. I argue there should be more knowledge available about the implications of using location through mobiles so that users can detach themselves from their digital worlds enough to be able to protect their own privacy.

Here at Zeal we work hard to ensure every service we offer is compliant to all standards surrounding privacy. It is our wide and colourful industry knowledge which makes us different and affords us to comfortably think dynamically and creatively about the services we can offer. Get in touch today to find out more.

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