Mobile Apps: Selling and Tracking Your Whereabouts More Than You Think

Explain this: You decided you wanted to leave your house to go pick up a drink at Starbucks. You go straight there and then back home and as your scrolling through Instagram or surfing the web you immediately see a Starbucks advertisement pop up on the screen advertising a new drink.

You may say oh it’s just a random advertisement that anyone would receive but that is not the case. Advertisers got a hold of your location and saw exactly where you went so they decided they wanted to show you an advertisement based on where you just went to get your attention and maybe get you to go back another time in the near future.

In the article “Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret” by Jennifer Valentino-Devries, Natasha Singer, Micheal H. Keller, and Aaron Krolik, I learned that the apps we have on our cellphones give the advertisers the ability to see our whereabouts as much as 1,000 times per day. They can see where exactly we’re going, the exact time we went there, and how long we spent in each place. Our location is being followed and sold to advertisers or other businesses so that they can better their “consumer experience”.

For example looking at the link above, on Instagram a few weeks ago there was a post going around saying Instagram was going to start using people’s information (aka there pictures they have shared on their accounts) without consent or letting anyone know that they were doing this. If a person with an account posted a picture that said: “Instagram does not have my permission to share my photos” then people would be “saved” from the threat of there photos being shared/used out in the world. They were saying that they would use old pictures against people in court and that they could copy and distribute photos as well. Later on, it was discovered that this was a meme but people still took it very seriously.

What about our privacy?

As I mentioned above, our location is being tracked anywhere that we bring our smartphones (which is pretty much everywhere!) so advertisers and/or creators of the apps that track our location can see EXACTLY where we are going and is not good for the society. People really have no idea how or where their location is being shared and that’s a problem (these are inappropriate and intimate details). We have a right to know where exactly our location goes and there’s no doubt about that.

The information (location) that is being sold is completely anonymous it is not connected to a name or phone number but to a distinctive ID. Unfortunately, the phone can be eventually traced to a person by employees or clients if they have access to the raw data. So what good does that really do?

Most of the apps that track location have to do with weather, traffic, or news and if you think about it those apps can only really work if you give them your location, without your location they can’t function. In a way, these apps are very helpful to a person in that they can tell them what weather to expect that day, what the traffic is like around them, and what news is going on around their area as well.

For society…

I am not sure how society will react to this. There might be mixed, positive, and negative reactions in that everyone has their point of view on the privacy issue and how bad location tracking really is.

I definitely think the apps that track and sell your location should at least notify a person as soon as they download the app so that they at least have a choice on whether or not they want their location shared. Location tracking with apps is going to start happening more frequently with other apps in the future. These apps should clearly state in their privacy policies, to not mislead people, that they can and will track your every move and sell your location. Whether you like it or not it’s happening.

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