Apps Tracking Your Location: Friendly or Creepy?

There is no denying the fact that the world has gone wireless. With the explosion of smartphones and the “bring your own device” (BYOD) movement, it is not hard to believe that more than 85% of American adults own a mobile phone and over half of them use them access the Internet. Mobile apps are becoming integral to daily tasks like finding a place to grab lunch, getting directions or organizing calendars.

Even though these apps make lives easier, many people do not know how much information they are collecting about their daily activities. From location to emails, address books to photos, developers have the ability to collect information stored on your phone without you even knowing about it. By simply accepting the privacy policy you are leaving the back door to your phone wide open.

Location can be one of the most useful pieces of data that app developers can obtain. The use of an app to check in at your favorite coffee shop or even just to upload your latest photo, a virtual map of your interests is being created.

One of the reasons that location is so valuable is that marketers can create more targeted ads based on where you are and what you are doing. This data arms marketers with more than just demographic information – it helps marketers truly understand the deeper interests of the people they are targeting.

Also, keep in mind that if you enable geolocation data to be collected on your phone – not just for the app. Geolocation data attached to media is called a geotag, which includes latitude and longitude coordinates. You run the risk of geotags being included whenever you upload a photograph or video or even send an SMS message. Field Technologies created a list of how to disable geotags on your phone, which will help to protect your privacy.


What are the implications of this sort of tracking?

Smartphone users have an average of 41 apps on their devices, all of which collect some sort of personal piece of information whether you realize it or not. Simply by checking in at the bistro for lunch, taking a picture of your food and tagging the friend you happen to be with, developers can know where you are, who you are with and what you are doing.

With all of this information floating around in cyberspace and the cloud, privacy has become more of an issue to people. A popular interactive short film called Take This Lollipop depicts the dangers of putting too much information on sites like Facebook. After logging in using your Facebook account and clicking on the image of a lollipop, the film begins to play. The film is unique for each user, and depicts a man stalking someone through Facebook. It shows the stalker creepily searching through a profile page, which is when users realize the profile page onscreen is none other than their own. Then, the video goes through the user’s pictures, check-in location data and friend list. After going through this virtual history, the video shows the stalker getting in a car with a picture of the user to physically locate you with the information he collected from your profile. This interactive film, complete with scary music, will leave you scared into being safer online!

Whether you see this trend as invasive or helpful, it is important to be aware that your personal information is at risk every time you download an app. Make sure to always read the privacy policy, check out customer reviews and do your own research to make sure that your personal information is not vulnerable to being collected and tracked.

If you are looking to further protect your personal information, McAfee® Mobile Security provides comprehensive protection against mobile device loss, viruses and web threats so that Android, BlackBerry and Symbian users can keep their personal life personal, outsmart identity thieves and connect with confidence.

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