Social media has became a large part of our lives. Regardless of whether or not you have personal accounts, social media impacts your life. At a high level, location services collect data of where you’ve been. Location services can also calculate where you may go and when based on previous habits. Once data has been collected it’s out of your control. New ways of analyzing existing data are being developed. What may seem harmless today may not be so tomorrow.
What Are Location Services
We all have cell phones, computers, tablets, GPS systems, cameras, vehicles and more. All of these devices are capable of reporting our location and behavior. We think of cell phones and GPS as two primary ways our location is tracked. However, even Wi-Fi locations and IP addresses are tied to geographical regions. Location services are applications that often sit in the cloud and track information about us. Often times we have no way of knowing how this data is used. But one thing is certain, we have to assume it will never be deleted and that it has the potential to compromise our safety.
A variety of services let consumers broadcast their locations publicly, often from mobile phones. Some programs let people check in at specific locations. Others let them continuously broadcast their movements in real time. A third method is geotagging, used by websites such as Flickr, to let consumers match photos to a location on a map.
Benefits of Location Services
Certain uses of location services can be extremely beneficial. The key is to limit the use of location services through your devices’ settings. Make sure you know how your location is being used and when. Examples of how location services may benefit you include:
- Report your location when using map apps to get driving directions
- Locating nearby businesses of interest
- Finding lost devices through services such as Apple’s “Find My Phone”
- 911 and emergency services
Dangers of Location Services and How to Protect Yourself
Examples of how location services may be detrimental to you include:
- Location Stamped Pictures (Geotagging): Often times we are spreading information about our location without realizing it. Cell phones and cameras can “geotag” pictures with your location. Something as innocent as posting vacation pictures can give away your location and the time the picture was taken.
- Tagging by Others: Be careful of who is taking your pictures. That innocent picture your friend takes of you while enjoying a night on the town can be posted to social media tagged with time and location. Suddenly it’s public knowledge that your children are home alone or that your home is unoccupied.
- Messaging: Something as innocent as sending someone a message via a social media messenger app could reveal your location. I once had an employee message me via social media that she was home sick for the day and couldn’t come to work. The only problem was that the messaging app gave away her location. Her location was several hours away from her home!
- Checking In: For some, it’s almost instinct to “check-in.” Checking in via social media apps lets the world know what business you’re at and when. Sometimes it’s an automatic process triggered by GPS and other location services. Disable check-ins. Ask yourself. What do “check-ins” really accomplis? Usually nothing.
Protecting against the improper use of location services is easy. Simply turn them off on your devices and be aware of who is taking your picture and posting about you on social media. It’s easiest to disable all location services and enable them only when needed.