What Are the Risks of Geo-Location?
Using your mobile’s built-in global positioning system (GPS) functionality allows location-based services (or geo-location) to locate and publish information about your whereabouts. Applications like Foursquare, Facebook and Yelp allow you to “check in” at places using your mobile phone, and then share your location with friends or on social networks. The application knows where you are because it taps into your phone’s GPS longitude and latitude data.
It can actually be a nifty tool and a smart use of available technologies, like when you are trying to find directions to a place: the map begins your directions where you are, since it knows your location. Some businesses even provide discounts or freebies as a reward for checking in.
While GPS can help you find places you’re going to and discover local deals, sharing your location with the world could pose some danger, so it’s critical to be aware of the risks that we face when using location-based services or geo-tagging.
For instance, you may not mind sharing your exact location with friends and family, but what about with people you don’t know? When your location is broadcast on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, you lose control of the information. Anyone can see it. Say you check into a hotel while on vacation. A thief could see your check-in, do an online search for your home address and rob you while you’re away.
What’s more, kids and teens like to use these services to help them meet up with friends, but imagine what could happen if your child’s exact location fell into the wrong hands. That’s why as parents we need to be particularly vigilant if our kids use location-based services.
GPS data is also used in geotagging. Geotagging includes longitude and latitude data in the image file automatically unless this is turned off. This technology is prevalent in images and videos taken by both smartphones and digital cameras.
This is troublesome because many of us are unaware of this feature, even though sharing images online has become immensely popular. Sites such as Instagram, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube are filled with pictures and videos that include location information. Most of the time, that information won’t matter, but you could be inadvertently telling people where you are just by sharing what you may think is an innocent photo.
Here’s some tips to use location services safely:
- Turn off the GPS function on your smartphone camera or digital camera. This is important if you are going to be sharing your images online. Instructions on how to turn off geotagging will vary, but we suggest referring to your phone or camera’s manual for further instructions on how to adjust this feature. You also might want to consider only letting certain apps (like maps) use your location data on your mobile device.
- Check your privacy settings on social networks and photo sharing sites. Make sure that you are only sharing information with friends and family. Also, make sure that you only accept people into your network that you know in real life.
- Be aware of the fact that the information you share on one social network may be linked to another. For instance, a photo you post to Twitter may automatically post to your Facebook profile. Because of this, it’s important that you check the privacy settings on all your accounts.
- Finally, be careful about what images you’re sharing and when you are sharing them. Rather than uploading a picture that reveals your location the moment you take it, wait until you get home to upload it.
Remember that whatever you post online is public, even if your privacy settings are set correctly. Your image could be taken and posted elsewhere, where you have no control over who sees it. My solution? Be discreet about what you share and when. Or just turn it off. I never share my location information on apps, but I do use my phone’s GPS daily. And I make sure all my devices are protected with comprehensive security software, like McAfee LiveSafe™ service (if you just need protection for your mobile devices, check out McAfee® Mobile Security).
Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Expert to McAfee. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked! (Disclosures)