Our phones’ GPS and location capabilities are a key part of what make them magical — enabling them to speed our commutes, hail rides, and find the devices when we lose them. These capabilities are also ground zero for the looming fight over defining the boundaries of privacy and acceptable uses of our personal information.
The big picture: Three recent stories show just how common problems with location data can be — and how thorny they’ve become.
1. Cell providers resell location info
- Motherboard’s story exposing a shadowy marketplace in the resale of location data tracking individual phones raised alarms that last week led all the major U.S. wireless carriers to announce they would stop selling the repositories of data that make such tracking possible.
- That’s a relief to anyone who’d prefer to keep their location private.
- Yet we welcome similar reuse of location data that allows services like Google Maps, Waze and Apple Maps to tell us the fastest route between two points.
2. Tweet locations reveal where you live
- For years, Twitter’s geolocation tagging of user’s tweets also gave developers access to detailed GPS coordinates for each message posted from a phone.
- As Wired reports, researchers have now used this data to build a tool that can determine where many Twitter users live with 90% accuracy.
- Twitter argues that its geolocation feature has always been opt-in and voluntary, and in 2015 it started blocking the more detailed GPS information.
- Still, this research highlights how common it is for online and mobile services to “leak” more information about you than you realize.