Do you remember the days of printing out directions from your desktop? Or the times when passengers were navigation co-pilots armed with a 10-pound book of maps? You can thank location services on your smartphone for today’s hassle-free and paperless way of getting around town and exploring exciting new places.
However, location services can prove a hassle to your online privacy when you enable location sharing. Location sharing is a feature on many connected devices – smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, smart fitness watches – that pinpoints your exact location and then distributes your coordinates to online advertisers, your social media following, or strangers.
While there are certain scenarios where sharing your location is a safety measure, in most cases, it’s an online safety hazard. Here’s what you should know about location sharing and the effects it has on your privacy.
The Benefits of Location Sharing
Location sharing is most beneficial when you’re unsure about new surroundings and want to let your loved ones know that you’re ok. For example, if you’re traveling by yourself, it may be a good idea to share the location of your smartphone with an emergency contact. That way, if circumstances cause you to deviate from your itinerary, your designated loved one can reach out and ensure your personal safety.
The key to sharing your location safely is to only allow your most trusted loved one to track the whereabouts of you and your connected device. Once you’re back on known territory, you may want to consider turning off all location services, since it presents a few security and privacy risks.
The Risks of Location Sharing
In just about every other case, you should definitely think twice about enabling location sharing on your smartphone. Here are three risks it poses to your online privacy and possibly your real-life personal safety:
1. Ad tracking
Does it sometimes seem like your phone, tablet, or laptop is listening to your conversations? Are the ads you get in your social media feeds or during ad breaks in your gaming apps a little too accurate? When ad tracking is enabled on your phone, it allows online advertisers to collect your personal data that you add to your various online accounts to better predict what ads you might like. Personal details may include your full name, birthday, address, income, and, thanks to location tracking, your hometown and regular neighborhood haunts.
If advertisers kept these details to themselves, it may just seem like a creepy invasion of privacy; however, data brokerage sites may sell your personally identifiable information (PII) to anyone, including cybercriminals. The average person has their PII for sale on more than 30 sites and 98% of people never gave their permission to have their information sold online. Yet, data brokerage sites are legal.
One way to keep your data out of the hands of advertisers and cybercriminals is to limit the amount of data you share online and to regularly erase your data from brokerage sites. First, turn off location services and disable ad tracking on all your apps. Then, consider signing up for McAfee Personal Data Cleanup, which scans, removes, and monitors data brokerage sites for your personal details, thus better preserving your online privacy.
Location sharing may present a threat to your personal safety. Stalkers could be someone you know or a stranger. Fitness watches that connect to apps that share your outdoor exercising routes could be especially risky, since over time you’re likely to reveal patterns of the times and locations where one could expect to run into you.
Additionally, stalkers may find you through your geotagged social media posts. Geotagging is a social media feature that adds the location to your posts. Live updates, like live tweeting or real-time Instagram stories, can pinpoint your location accurately and thus alert someone on where to find you.
3. Social Engineering
Social engineering is an online scheme where cybercriminals learn all there is about you from your social media accounts and then use that information to impersonate you or to tailor a scam to your interests. Geotagged photos and posts can tell a scammer a lot about you: your hometown, your school or workplace, your favorite café, etc.
With these details, a social engineer could fabricate a fundraiser for your town, for example. Social engineers are notorious for evoking strong emotions in their pleas for funds, so beware of any direct messages you receive that make you feel very angry or very sad. With the help of ChatGPT, social engineering schemes are likely going to sound more believable than ever before. Slow down and conduct your own research before divulging any personal or payment details to anyone you’ve never met in person.
Live Online Anonymously
Overall, it’s best to live online as anonymously as possible, which includes turning off your location services when you feel safe in your surroundings. McAfee+ offers several features to improve your online privacy, such as a VPN, Personal Data Cleanup, and Online Account Cleanup.
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