Cell phones, free apps, and location tracking data

Echoes of Orwell and 1984–if you have a cell phone in the United States and have downloaded free apps, your location is probably being tracked many times each day often very precisely.

“At least 75 companies receive anonymous, precise location data from apps whose users enable location services to get local news and weather or other information.”  The movements of people are tracked “in startling detail, accurate to within a few yards and in some cases updated more than 14,000 times a day.”

“These companies sell, use, or analyze the data to cater to advertisers, retail outlets and even hedge funds seeking insights into consumer behavior.”

While the companies claim this tracking is anonymous, it is not.  Particular cell phone users can be followed or, in reverse, identified by their movements.  “The explanations people see when prompted to give permission [to enable location services with apps] are often incomplete or misleading.”

Be smart–think twice before downloading apps (especially “free” apps), and go into the settings on your iPhone or Android to stop or limit location tracking.

Read the article (Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Natasha Singer, Michael H. Keller, and Aaron Krolik, New York Times, December 10, 2018).

For more information about the benefits and risks of technology, search Science Primary Literature (database).

Questions? Please let me know (engelk@grinnell.edu).

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