A new investigative report has further confirmed that users’ online activity is becoming an advertising central to businesses like Google and Facebook. It is not just about users’ browsing information that is revealed in front of digital advertising networks but it is also about where they are landing.
An investigation by the New York Times about location-tracking services used by several commonly used apps has brought a clear picture of mass surveillance in the name of advertising income.
What the Companies Claim and What Is Happening in Reality?
All these companies claim that the capabilities of their location-tracking apps only track users when they are active. But the New York Times’ investigation discovered a much harsher truth.
It was found that around 75 companies get exact location information, even including details such as the names of streets. The extent to which this type of tracking reaches is always concealed by some language which is not clear.
The report also claims that the monitoring is so precise that the data could show anyone’s home address easily by using public records.
How Can This Data Be Manipulated?
The location tracking apps gobble up every single bit of information. Crime scenes, nuclear power plants and jails are also not spared. Even the emergency rooms are not left alone for that matter. Apart from affecting you as an individual, these companies collect information on vast numbers of people.
The information collected is valuable and can be used for several things including influencing opinion about political matters.
There are several other ways in which companies can make use of such facts to manipulate people the way they want.
Accurate Location Data from Millions of Devices
The report says at least 75 companies get unidentified but accurate app location information from about 200 million phones in the United States alone. Some gather this information several times a day.
Additionally, companies gained access to location data from schools, shops, hospitals and homes.
Out of 20 most popular apps that were tested, it was found that at least 17 were able to send the right coordinates to approzimately 70 businesses. Some of the apps that were tested are WeatherBug, theScore, Tube Map, DC Metro and Bus, Perfect365 and GasBuddy.
Be Aware of What You Are Downloading
Users normally install location services for purposes of convenience, like getting updates on traffic. The report from the New York Times found out that some apps did not clearly show the extent to which the gathered data was used. For instance, the Weather Channel app—the report examined the user data collected for hedge funds, but the prompt for location only showed users would get local weather data, forecasts and alerts.
The New York Times report adds that there are no federal laws in the U.S. on restricting the collection and use of this type of information. When there is no law, there is no guarantee that your data will be protected.
How Can You Safeguard Your Data?
Having location data certainly make apps much easier to use. At the same time, it would be wise to review the apps periodically and keep a check on what is happening.
If you use an iOS-run device, go to Settings, then Privacy and then Location Services. From there, you can go through your apps manually and decide if you really want to turn on the location settings all the time or only when needed.
If you are an Android user, go to Settings, then Security and Locations. Then go to “app-level permissions” and make sure to remove and uninstall the apps you don’t use anymore.
You might also consider using a VPN service to mask your location at all times. There are plenty of VPN apps available for both Android and Apple devices.