Home Your phone apps may be tracking you; and gathering more than just your location

Your phone apps may be tracking you; and gathering more than just your location

Crystal Graham
photo phone
(© ikostudio – stock.adobe.com)

GPS or location-tracking technology may be helpful in your life, especially while travelling to or from a new city. Did you know it could also put your privacy at risk?

Digital privacy experts say that apps can track your whereabouts without your consent and sell your data to third parties, according to a news release from NordVPN.

Location-targeted advertising reached more than $62 billion in 2019, and it is expected to grow in the upcoming years.

Users are often unaware of the privacy implications of some permissions they grant to apps, especially when it comes to location-tracking information. Privacy policies are often vague, highlighting the need for location data and not disclosing that the same data can be shared and sold.

With the help of the TrackAdvisor app, researchers decided to find how much personal information phone apps can gather through location tracking. The results showed that such information as the place where users live and their habits, interests, demographics, health, and socio-economic situation were collected. Also, some apps track your location even after switching it off.

“When GPS is on, various organizations can easily track someone’s movements and use this information to collect data on their habits and (dis)likes and target them with advertising based on their location,” said Daniel Markuson, a digital privacy expert with NordVPN, in the news release. “Once a person’s location data has been collected from an app and it has entered the data marketplace, it can be sold over and over again, from the data providers to an aggregator that resells your data.”

Location details improve the user experience, helping companies produce more relevant content. However, that convenience comes with the price, such as an uptick in targeted ads, an increased digital footprint, and a surged risk of data breaches.

“You might have noticed that your Facebook ads often correspond with your location and recent internet activity,” said Markuson. “That’s the same social network that experienced a data leak of 533 million users’ data, including their location, last year. Our data is never safe even in the hands of tech giants.”

Markuson provides some tips on how you can stop anything or anyone tracking your whereabouts – especially without your permission:

  • Check which apps and software are allowed to track your location. Some apps need your location to do their job.  For example, it would make no sense to use Google Maps without giving it location tracking permission. However, other apps collect your location as surplus data. Check the settings for each app on your phone to ensure that the location tracking is turned off on the apps not dependent on the location.
  • Turn your cookies off and/or clear them regularly. Tracking cookies are used to find out your IP address and geographical location. A good idea is to get rid of the habit to click accept all without actually reviewing what you are agreeing with.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.