Geolocation in the Digital Age

Come on in, Big Brother. The door’s open.

From finding shopping bargains to tracking your friends, geolocation features provided with smartphones have become a part of everyday life. A variety of apps use your location to give you more relevant information, such as maps or weather apps. Other apps use your location to help you in more creative ways; for example, Foursquare City Guide can help users find nearby businesses or events, and Foursquare Swarm helps connect users with friends who are in the same area by allowing people to post a status message and share their location with their contacts.

Depending on how you view geolocation, these services could appear to be either a risk to privacy or an exciting innovation. However, Ron Swanson’s worst nightmare can be a dream come true for those who understand and use this technology wisely.

How to Control Your Location Settings

It is important to remember that you have the power to decide who has access to your digital trail and when that access is permitted. Your phone and each app you use must ask for your permission to use features that rely on geolocation. Often, these programs will ask for your permission when you open the app for the first time. However, if you want to change these permissions, iPhone users can go to Settings>Privacy>Location Services.

In this menu, users may choose to disable location services for all applications or choose location services settings on an app-by-app basis. Apps provide the option of always allowing access, never allowing access, or allowing access only when the app is in use. When you permit an app with constant or controlled access to your location in this settings menu, the app will provide an explanation of how it will use this information. For example, the Photos app uses your location to create a “Memories” album using photos that were taken nearby.

Apps may also use “geofencing,” a virtual perimeter around your location, to send you notifications when you arrive or leave a location. “5 Real App Examples of Killer Geofencing Push Notifications” by Justina Perro provides a list of ways in which apps may use geofencing.

Why Your Location Is Important to Companies

Companies need your location for two main reasons: to help you as an individual with personalized information and to improve services for all of their customers using aggregate data gathered from each individual.

According to Apple’s location services and privacy information, Apple serves you as an individual through sharing your location when you make emergency calls, providing personalized traffic routing, and creating suggestions or alerts based on your location. On a larger scale, your phone may anonymously send your location and speed to Apple when you are driving in a car so that Apple can create a crowd-sourced traffic report for its customers.

Taking Advantage of Geolocation

When you know how to control access to your location, you can enjoy the perks that location services offer without worrying about privacy concerns. Through knowing how companies use this data, you have the tools you need to decide when and how you will allow apps to use your location.

Carefully monitor and consider with whom your location is being shared. When you know the reason a company or a person wants to know your location, you are better equipped to know whether to trust that company or individual with your location. Using location services wisely may mean thinking your choices through and taking a second look at those lengthy terms of service agreements. However, your peace of mind and your safety is worth it.

Many companies are using geolocation in innovative and useful ways. Whether you’re hunting a rare species in Pokémon Go or seeing what time your child made it home, geolocation can provide valuable, insightful tools that are beyond the realm of what we once thought possible.

Like any other technological tool, moderation is key. Giving a company constant access to your location is unnecessary. However, sticking to folded maps from your car dashboard because you fear geolocation is steering too far into the ditch on the other side of the road.

Open the door to geolocation, but know when to shut it, too.