In today’s world, just about everyone has a smart device with global positioning satellite (GPS) tracking capabilities. The topic is highly controversial due to the associated risks and ‘Big Brother’ vibes that come alongside it. With the majority of mobile apps wanting in on your GPS location, often is the case that an app cannot be downloaded at all unless confirmation is given. But the question you have to ask yourselves is, why would a gaming app need to know your location? With so many unknown sources knowing your whereabouts, do the benefits of GPS outweigh the risks?
GPS has become a very normal part of our lives. Especially handy for when we are lost or need directions, they’re in our phones, vehicles, and even our smart watches. They’ve become so irreplaceable, that we’re even willing to bet that most of you couldn’t accurately read a map to get around! But the issue of online privacy continues to reveal itself, and though many choose to turn a blind eye, it is there, loud and clear.
They’re Watching You
Law enforcement and the government has begun using GPS to track possible suspects via cell phones, and even attaching devices to vehicles. In fact, this unlawful practice is becoming more commonplace — bringing us to the online privacy debate. Simply purchasing a phone or vehicle with a GPS system in place means you are effectively consenting to use a government-owned tracking system. After all, it was originally developed by the US Department of Defense. You would think the only way to ensure you aren’t being watched is by completely removing the battery itself — not that it will look suspicious or anything… However, thanks to technological advancements, VPNs and other proxy tools provide a solution to stay masked from government eyes.
Are Your Apps Putting You at Risk?
When looking more closely into your app settings, the majority specify that location data is used only when the app is active, but some may always be tracking your location. A few months ago, in fact, The New York Times published an article explaining how the Uber app had found a way to track iOS users’ locations even after they’d deleted the app.
It’s hard to know whether or not an app is selling your data onto third parties and who exactly these third parties are. A prime example of this is the free game for Android Tapsnake, known to upload GPS data to a remote server, where data can be sold via a separate app (GPS Spy). This would allow others to monitor the location of the phone, effectively watching a victims every move, without their knowledge. Mobile threats are evolving, so be very careful of what you install onto your devices. If a game is asking for GPS location, it’s something to think twice about installing.
With GPS data increasingly falling into the wrong hands, cyber-criminals can easily use GPS to build a larger picture of their victims and prepare phishing attacks. GPS data doesn’t just give insight into whereabouts, it can reveal far more than that, including the shops, bars and restaurants that you enjoy etc. Cyber-criminals armed with this sort of information can use it to script a text or email (known as spear-phishing), that is more personal, with reference to a victims activities. Say you just visited a restaurant and after leaving, received a ‘rate your experience’ email, with the restaurant’s name and logo attached. This is just one of many ways that a victim can fall prey to a spear phishing attack.
Social Media Just Got Creepier
One of the first things you do when enjoying a new experience — a vacation, a fun event — is post a photo to your social media. Who doesn’t really want to show off to their friends and followers how awesome their life is? The problem however, lies in that most posts now advertise your location. Geo-tagged photos provide clues to where you are, and unless you really know all of your social followers in real life, this can be problematic. Besides cyber-attacks, this could also be used as a prime time for opportunistic burglars — seeing as they can now find out when you’re not home.
As you can see, the applications for GPS are a highly controversial topic. In the wrong hands, this sort of information can provide more harm than good. This may all be a bit disconcerting, but you can always turn off geolocation for your social media posts and disable GPS use for apps. And if you’re really worried, give old fashioned map reading a try every now and then — it’s not so bad!