By DJ Pangburn
Big tech companies and others are quietly amassing mountains of users’ location data, in ways many don’t realize and sometimes can’t avoid.
Even the most absent-minded smartphone user is probably aware that apps keep tabs on where they go. Many apps wouldn’t work without location data. But few realize just how often that location tracking is happening—even when it’s not necessary, even when their apps aren’t being used, and, increasingly, even when a user isn’t even carrying their phone. Tracking you across the map isn’t always about improving user experience, of course, but rather about better understanding who you are and what kind of advertising to show you. If, for instance, a company knows that you’ve just stepped foot in one of their stores, they might start targeting you with ads touting a sale.
It’s hard to dispute the value of a good sale, but location tracking raises all sorts of privacy concerns. (Not to mention that using the GPS will drain your smartphone’s battery faster.) Should app makers know where we live, where our children go to school, where we go to get away from it all? And if so, how much should they tell us about it?