Location Services

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:

  • 1. At a device level Open or Close

    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.

  • 2. Through individual apps Open or Close

      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.

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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