Sharing your location online isn’t always a good idea. Do you know why?
Location sharing is a seemingly innocent, yet powerful feature. We don’t often think of our current location as something sensitive, however, it is. Like any other piece of information, it might get into the wrong hands and be misused in many ways. Multiple mobile apps that require access to your location are found to employ less than adequate security measures. Moreover, some apps with location sharing support like Google Maps or Facebook Messenger are connected to internet giants that are notorious for disregarding the privacy of their users and collecting data about them. Our Chief Technical Officer and Privacy Expert, Mikalai Shershan, speaks about the real privacy risks associated with location sharing.
Risk # 1 Enhanced Personal Profiles on People-Search/Data Broker Sites
First and foremost, data brokers can take advantage of your location being shared on social media. Even if you are not particularly concerned about your own location privacy, think of the companies that can benefit from it. Make no mistake, once you turn on location services on social media, this information will be harvested by multiple data brokers. “Few people realize that any adult in the US has already been profiled for data selling businesses to derive profit. We share our exact location without giving it a thought and this information is continuously collected, combined with other user data, and exploited by information brokers to refine their knowledge about you,” says Mikalai.
Companies like LexisNexis, MyLife, and WhitePages will stop at nothing to get more data to enrich your profile. They will parse the internet 24/7 to pull information about you from all available online sources. Your social media profiles full of personal details are the most obvious places they’ll look. For instance, Pipl.com, a large supplier of information to data brokers and people-search sites, picks up everything you readily share with your friends on Facebook or Pinterest including geographical identification metadata in your geotags.
The threats? To name a few:
- You can become a victim of a stalker.
- Someone can share a link to your profile on a people-search site to arrange a doxxing or swatting attack on you.
- When combined with your other sensitive personal data exposed on people-search sites, information about your location can be used to steal your identity or commit fraud against you.
“Few people realize that any adult in the US has already been profiled for data selling businesses to derive profit. We share our exact location without giving it a thought and this information is continuously collected, combined with other user data, and exploited by information brokers to refine their knowledge about you.”
– Mikalai Shershan, OneRep
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Risk # 2 Sharing your location reveals where you aren’t at the time you post
This is dangerous for several reasons
- Someone may want to impersonate you virtually. It’s much easier to do this when they know you’re away from home or your workplace. All it takes is breaking in and stealing sensitive data from your computer and later using it in identity-related crimes.
- A physical burglary can more easily happen when bad actors know from your social media updates that you are on a vacation and left your house empty for a month.
Risk #3 The Privacy of Others Is Endangered
When you tag other people in your social media posts, they become publicly exposed as being in a specific place at a specific time. This is a potential risk especially if these people have privacy concerns associated with a jealous partner, foster-parent situations, or an open restraining order on someone.
- Take a minute to think about the possible consequences before sharing your location on social media. If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t do it.
- Always ask for permission to tag your friends or family before you post about them.
- Check privacy settings of different location sharing apps. Many are found to employ poor security, so make sure you look them up before downloading them to your phone.
- Limit the sharing period. Location sharing uses GPS and mobile networks to pinpoint your location. It’s better to simply limit the time period it’s on. In most cases, we only need it for a couple of minutes.
- Check your apps to make sure their automatic location sharing option is turned off.
- Choose messengers like iMessage, Telegram, or Signal that don’t share your data with big social networks.
- Never share your location with strangers. Simply don’t – this is just plain dangerous. If you’re a parent, make sure your children are not doing that either.
- Don’t share your location publicly. The risks are pretty vivid: you can get robbed (because literally, everyone with the same app can always see where you are) or get assaulted, or experience something else that’s equally unpleasant.
- Don’t install random location sharing apps. Besides the fact that they can share your data with third parties, they may have weak security in place and be vulnerable to hacker attacks and data leaks.
- Don’t use apps that don’t have clear data sharing policies. The companies that don’t specifically address what they do with location information they gather through their tracking apps are a potential threat to your privacy. Trustworthy ones like Apple or Google are transparent about where location information is going.
Add an additional layer to protect your online privacy
The consequences of sharing your location can pose a serious threat to your privacy. That’s why it’s essential to limit it to the circumstances when it’s absolutely unavoidable or utterly necessary. Also, you can enhance your online privacy by removing your exposed information from people-search sites that share your name, address, phone number, family ties and other personal details with anyone willing to pay a small fee to get them.
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