Ever seen either of these symbols or something like them appear on your phone or device?
The chances are, the answer to that question is yes.
These are the symbols used by Android and Apples devices for location services. If they appear on your phone, they normally indicate that your device is actively calculating your current location.
This can be done in a number of ways but most commonly uses GPS (global positioning system) to pinpoint the location of your device, and therefore you.
GPS uses satellites to provide location information to the receiver in your 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.
How is that information used?
Geolocation information is used in lots of different ways, by both your device’s operating system and by other apps you may have installed.
Some services enable you to check into a specific location (for example on social media), others log your movements in real time (mapping services) and lots of services will use your 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 you to share geolocation information with other people – your friends, your family, or even strangers, who you only know online. You need to ask yourself do you 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? Even if you’re not sharing a location which is important to you, there are always risks involved with sharing your live location at a given time, especially if that information is visible to strangers.
Finally bear in mind that checking in regularly from the same locations can develop patterns and lead to people building up an accurate picture of your movements, which could lead to safety concerns.
What do I need to do?
Click on the numbered options below to learn more about managing who or what is accessing your location information:
Remember when looking at which apps have permission to access location information to think about what that app is designed to do.
Some apps, like mapping services, require location information to function properly but for others, like social media or games, they don’t need this information.
It’s a good idea to ensure the apps which don’t need location information to work, don’t have permission to access it. This way you’re ensuring there’s no risk that information is shared accidentally or that your location history is being monitored or stored by a service unnecessarily.
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