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Geolocation | Yes, your devices tell us exactly where in the world you are

Updated: Apr 22, 2023

Have you ever wondered how the colossal entity that is the Internet – including apps, websites, companies and even private individuals – almost always knows where you are in the world or what you’re up to? Constantly suggesting things of interest in relation to or with your location, advertising banners for things and places relevant to where you are and what you’re doing? Well, THAT’S Geolocation. Geolocation is a technology that uses data acquired from your computer or mobile device to identify or describe your actual physical location. Two types of data can be collected—active user/device-based information, and passive server-based lookup/data correlation—these are then cross-referenced against each other to create the most accurate result. Geolocation makes it possible, from any device connected to the Internet, to obtain all types of information in real time and locate the user with pinpoint accuracy at a given point in time. It’s the foundation for location-positioning services and location-aware applications (apps) – apps like Uber and Instagram for example. With the number of smartphone users expected to reach 2.66 billion by 2019 and more than 2 million apps available in both the Android and iPhone markets, the prevalence of geolocation technology will only continue to increase. Positive Impacts of Geolocation:

  1. tailored content and services to users in particular locations.

  2. conducting financial transactions from mobile devices with greater assurance of wireless security.

  3. the ability to use cloud storage to synchronise devices across a multitude of mobile platforms and different user locations.

  4. provide accurate and timely geo-referenced data and tag items of interest with location metadata

  5. the capability to use location coordinates as a key to search databases and get information from a specific app on any mobile device.

  6. provide virtual boundaries and de facto controls for activities such as Internet gambling, video distribution, and the sale/purchase of products and services that may be restricted in one jurisdiction, but permitted in another.

  7. business benefits including manufacturing, retail, financial services, insurance, transportation, utilities and governments. For many businesses, the use of geolocation and mobile technologies is critical to success due to targeted advertising, delivery and asset management, e.g., truck location and manifest status, content customisation and delivery, E-discovery in support of litigation and regulatory enforcement, fraud detection and prevention using Internet protocol (IP) location technology together with fraud profile data, real-time incident management through geolocation enrichment of logs and other IT data.

Of course, on the other side of the geolocation coin is a range of social and privacy considerations on how geolocation data, together with other personal information, can be used or abused. As with any technology, geolocation has a double-edged nature. The capabilities that empower social networking, aid in law enforcement, and transform the way the world is experienced and navigated also provide the basis for serious misuse in the wrong hands. Negative Impacts of Geolocation:

  1. When someone utilises an app and its services there are multiple data controllers like the service provider, wireless access points and/or developers. Multiple data controllers force users to accede control of the systems that determine and store their location and other personal information. Consequently, users usually cannot identify the source and ownership of data collection. This raises several concerns for users such as how their location data is being used, with whom the data will be shared, whether there will be onward transfer of the data, and the timeline for data retention and destruction. As the use of location-aware apps and geo-marketing becomes increasingly pervasive, concerns continue to exist around online privacy—specifically, business practices around the collection and use of Personal Information.

  2. Your personal information; including race, gender, occupation and financial history, has significant financial value. Location information is of particularly high value with GPS and geolocation tags, in combination with other personal information, and can be utilised by criminals to identify your present or future location, and to cause harm to your and/or your property; ranging from burglary and theft to stalking, kidnapping and domestic violence. Companies and individuals can easily see and know your every move. From where you last sent a WhatsApp message to where you drop your kids off a school or where you live and just left vacant while on holiday. According to data collected by the South African Police Services in 2017, more than 30% of criminals used geolocation or other acquired location-based information to perform physical crimes.

  3. unwarranted surveillance of individual or enterprise activities and use in criminal activities

  4. Sensitive information being shared and put “out” there.

  5. Unwanted spam and advertising.

How to manage geolocation in your life: Geolocation risk factors extend beyond us as individuals. The location data risk also pertains to enterprises, employees and families. Things to consider about your geolocation data being collected by various platforms…What data is being collected? Who is collecting location data and how are they used? With whom can the data be shared, and how long are they stored? Would accidental or unintentional sharing of location data result in annoyance, embarrassment or danger to an individual’s safety?

  1. Maintain an up-to-date operating system, and update your apps software regularly, and backup your data regularly.

  2. Turn off or “opt out” of location services for any apps that don’t really need to know, and only allow locations services for functional apps like Uber, Maps etcetera, and only when in use. For more information and how to do so on your mobile device check individual phone Privacy And Security tabs and user manuals.

  3. Be aware of what you share. Anything you share with a geolocation tag or any tag in general may live online forever and can be used against you.

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