Does your phone know where you are? If you've used your phone to find directions or locate a nearby restaurant, you've used its global positioning system (GPS) and it's likely that it would be able to pinpoint your location within a close range.
Location services can be convenient for automatically adding location information (geotags) to photos. Some people also use location services to post their locations to social networking sites, such as Facebook. Be aware, however, that others can use your location information, too.
The risks of using location services
The apps and search engine you use may sell your location data to advertisers who might then deliver ads on your mobile phone related to where you are.
Services, such as Foursquare, that track your location can be used for criminal purposes—for spying, stalking, or theft. If your location-sharing messages are tied to Twitter, there is no limit to who might know where you are and when you're not at home.
If messages that share your location are tied to your Facebook account, your network of friends and family will know your location.
Location information is added to all of the other data about you on social sites and blogs, comments you leave, and so on. It's likely permanent and searchable.
How to use location services more safely
Choose from among the strategies below to set the level of privacy that is right for you.
PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE SETTINGS THAT USE YOUR LOCATION
- Consider turning off features that add location information (also called geotagging) in your tweets, blogs, or social network accounts.
- Consider disabling location services altogether. Be aware, of course, that this will restrict such features as maps, bus route data, or services that allow you to watch over your children.
- Use location features selectively. For example, turn on geotagging of photos only when you need to mark them with your location. Remember that it is safer not to geotag photos of your children or your house.
LIMIT WHO KNOWS YOUR LOCATION
- Share your location only with those you trust. For example, in a service like Facebook Places, create a separate list of your closest friends. Use privacy controls to restrict access to location status updates, messages, and photos.
- Disable the option that allows others to share your location (check you in).
- Set your location data so that it's not publicly available or searchable.
IF YOU USE LOCATION SERVICES, CHECK IN THOUGHTFULLY
- Pay attention to where and when you check in.
- Does it enhance or harm your reputation?
- Does it put others at risk? For example, are you checking in from your kids' school or a friend's house?
- Are you alone? If so, is checking in safe?
- Link to social media with care. Avoid sending your check-ins to Twitter, Facebook, or your blog.
HELP PROTECT KIDS WHO USE LOCATION SERVICES
In addition to the other ways you can help preserve your family's online safety, consider these steps specific to location services:
- If you use a family location service to monitor your kids' whereabouts, make sure others cannot locate them. Otherwise, consider disabling the location feature on your child's phone—at the very least, turn it off in the phone's camera.
- Unless you feel your teenage children have the maturity to use these services responsibly, prevent them from using check-in services available on social-networking sites.