What are location services?
These are the symbols used by Android and Apples devices for location services. They are used to indicate when a device is actively calculating its current location.
This can be done in a number of ways but most commonly uses GPS (global positioning system) to pinpoint the location of the device, and therefore its owner.
GPS uses satellites to provide location information to the receiver in the device. It does not require data or phone reception as it operates separately from these systems, however devices now will often use a combination of GPS, internet and telephone systems to provide geolocation information, which can then be shared through a variety of services
How is that information used?
Geolocation information is used in lots of different ways, by both a device’s operating system and by other apps that may be installed.
Some services enable users to check into a specific location (for example on social media), others log movements in real time (mapping services and some games) and lots of services will use a device’s location to try and provide you with more relevant information.
For example, if you search the name of a chain of shops online, the internet browser may use geolocation information to identify which branches of that shop are closest to you and will then show you these at the top of the first page of search results.
What are the risks?
Some services allow users to share geolocation information with other people – friends, family, or even strangers. For adults and children alike, it’s important to ask: do I really want to broadcast this information to everyone?
For example logging in at home not only tells people when you are at home but also tells people where your home is. The same rules apply for your friend’s houses and school - if you wouldn’t want to put yourself at risk by broadcasting your personal address then why would you do it to your friends?
For young people in particular, even if they’re not sharing a location which is important to them, there are always risks involved with sharing their live location at a given time, especially if that information is visible to strangers.
Finally checking in regularly from the same locations can develop patterns and lead to people building up an accurate picture of someone’s movements, which could also lead to safety concerns.
Is using location services ever okay?
Of course! Location services can be really useful and some apps need location information to do their job. Services like weather apps, mapping apps or travel planner apps will use your location to provide you with the most relevant or up-to-date information.
Sharing your location with close friends and family can also be useful. You may want to track your child’s movements as they travel home from school to ensure they’re safe or two friends meeting up could share their live location to help find each other.
What settings are there to help?
There are two ways to manage who or what is accessing location information:
- At a device level
On both Apple and Android devices you can manage settings on location services through the device’s main settings menu.
On Apple devices ‘Location Services’ are listed under ‘Privacy’ – there are various options available, including turning location services off entirely, sharing your location with other named people and managing whether apps have permission to access your location all of the time, never at all or only when you’re actively using the app.
On devices operating with Android how you manage location settings can vary depending on the make of the device. Generally you have the option to turn off location settings entirely, choose how your device determines your location (e.g. using GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Mobile Network, etc.) and manage which apps have permission to access location information.
- Through individual apps
You can also manage how location information is shared and used through individual apps. For example, on social media services you can often choose what audience you want to share location information with, if at all. You can find out more about privacy settings on individual apps through the UK Safer Internet Centre.
It’s also worth thinking about how your social media accounts are linked together. If location updates on one service or social network are linked to a public account on another, you may be publishing to a larger audience than you think. Make sure all linked accounts are visible only to friends.
What advice can I share with my child?
Discussing how to use the internet safely and positively with your child is always a great idea and talking about location services is a great way to help your child protect their personal information. Why not share these top tips with your child?