A recent NY Times report sheds light into the dangerous business of location gathering that could leave us all open & vulnerable if we aren't taking matters into our own hands.

It is no surprise to us by now that free services use us as their products. We have all known that and have come to terms with it. But how much of it is safe?

We are the new gold.

After reading the report, even I, who regularly advice people to take stricter measures while surfing online, am terrified by how much this location gathering activities have increased. It is 2018 and location data is the new gold. And while, companies are saying that the location data are anonymized for our safety, the report says otherwise. In fact, it is much easier to track someone using their online activities. I would say that is alarming. That report is worth the read, it is lengthy but worth every second you spend on reading it. I urge my readers to take a look.

Time & again, I have posted on my social media about how to stay safe online. Yes, it seems ironic that I post on the services that I tell you to use less but that is how it is in today's world.

Now, many of you are insensitive towards the topic. I have seen some of my friends ask me, "What will happen if they take that data? How will I be harmed? They can't harm me!" and so on. Well, to them I have a scenario. Imagine a person following you day & night, without your consent, everywhere. How would you feel? Terrified? Worried? Well, this is the 21st Century stalking. Now, no one needs to be physically present to stalk you. They can do so without being anywhere near you and yet know all about you - where you live, where you go to work, your frequented diner, your dentist, where you go to gym, your favourite movie theatre, etc. It is indeed a serious matter and you should immediately start acting responsibly. Otherwise, one day you will see someone else impersonating you perfectly and invading you life like those dystopian sci-fi movies, with no clue as to who the person is.

If you are still not convinced, I have some more articles for you to read

  1. Facebook has filed a patent that would use your family photos to target ads - TheVerge
  2. Facebook patents system that can use your phone's mic to monitor TV habits - The Guardian
  3. Will our smart devices become a massive surveillance network? - The Next Web
  4. Your data can still be identified even if it's anonymized - Fast Company
  5. Google tracks people secretly even after they have stopped location sharing - Independent
Image Courtesy: Shelly Palmer

There are a lot of ways to protect your privacy & while I admit that it is difficult to free ourselves from the clutches of the big corporations because of the ease they provide us but is not impossible. Besides, business want us to be hooked to their services so that they can gather more & more data to target us ads. So, in all technicality, they are selling us our own stuff.

Some of the ways that you can minimise the invasion right now

  1. Do not give location access to the apps that don't need it even when they ask for it. Some will say you that they won't work without that access but in reality, they will work perfectly fine. Example: Facebook. I have turned off all the permission except storage because I share my photographs and it works flawlessly. Especially true for Instagram & Messenger where they ask for Contacts permission. Do not allow them to keep a directory of your contacts.
  2. Make sure that you invest time and energy into an app that you are using in finding all of its detailed settings. Facebook for the longest time, had its advert settings buried deep within the settings app and while we can blame them for the scandal but it is our laziness to do the extra step that they have exploited. So always take the extra step.
  3. Do not go on opening accounts on services just for fun. You think they won't know but your email ID is a pretty good identifier of all the activities you do on web. Also, do not share your phone number if it is not necessary. I recommend keeping a number specifically for online activities.

Here are some articles to help you more in-depth

  1. How to stop Google from tracking you - WIRED
  2. How to stop Facebook from tracking you - iMore (The steps are similar on both iOS & Android)
  3. How to stop apps from tracking your location - NY Times

When was the first time you were concerned about your online privacy? Have you ever felt any side effects to using social media location services? Let me know on my social media outlets (Irony, again!).