The good, the bad and the ugly of location services


You’ve probably noticed popups on your iPhone advising you of how apps are using your location and offering preference changes.

This big change has come largely because tech providers and social media companies selling your data to businesses and the government.

Privacy is caught in a tangle of contradictions. The difference between a feature and a detriment is what you choose and what is chosen for you.

Last week, it was reported that location data is being sold by private firms to other industries. More disturbing is the fact that these third parties are reselling the data to others. An investigation by Vice disturbingly showed how easy it is to get location data for just about anyone — so long as you have their phone number and a couple of hundred bucks.

This is just the latest of revelations on how you are being tracked every day. Scores of apps use location data, and some are actively engaged in selling it — with Weather Bug, Gas Buddy and The Weather Channel among them.

And that’s just apps on your phone. What about your car?

Bill Hanvey, president of the Auto Care Association, wrote in May about the surprising amount of data your computer-controlled car collects. For example, your weight, how fast you drive, where you go, and — if you connect a phone to you car via Bluetooth — your texts. About 25 gigbytes of data every hour are collected and transmitted to the manufacturer. Since it’s not illegal for companies to sell this data, one has to wonder: What’s next? Would your insurance company like to know how you drive? How about your health insurance provider learning how much weight you are gaining?

Is this legal?

The fact that it’s not illegal for apps to sell the data has spurred a call among privacy activists for legislation similar to Europe’s GDPR. California’s passage of a digital privacy law this summer, seemed like the extra push Congress needed to try and avoid a flurry of contradictory state laws trying to regulate digital services that know no geographic boundary. But hope is fading that the two sides can overcome differences to get something done before the 2020 election.

Three steps you can take

  1. Inventory the apps on your phone. Delete those you don’t use. Apple has a function that removes unused apps from your phone but lets you instantly redownload them if you want them back.
  2. Make sure location sharing is really necessary for the app you’re using.
  3. For those apps you keep, give the lowest permission possible when it comes to tracking and sharing. You don’t need a weather app to know where you are every minute — only when you are using it.

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