In the News
By Catey Hill
The NSA, burglars and jealous exes don’t need to spy on you to know where you are right now, or where you’ve been. All they need to do is look at your social media updates.
While the popularity of “checking in” has decreased — dropping from 18% of adult smartphone users doing it in February 2012 to 12% in May 2013 — the popularity of automatically tagging posts with your current location has dramatically increased. Now, three in 10 adults who use social media have at least one account they purposefully have set up (this doesn’t include people who just neglected to change their default setting) to automatically include their current location with every post, according to data from the Pew Research Center — which means that as soon as they write a post, their geolocated whereabouts become a part of it (when people check in someplace, in contrast, they are making a conscious decision to choose whether to add their current location, or even specify a different location. That’s up from 14% who had ever done this two years ago. (And some people may be automatically tagging posts with the location without even realizing it.) Automatic tagging is most popular among social media users ages 18 to 49, with 33% doing it; least popular among 50- to 64-year-olds, with 26% doing it).So what’s with the popularity of automatic tagging? “It’s an easy way for people to curate their lives and what they are doing,” says Anthony Mullen, a senior analyst at Forrester Research — as it allows them to automatically add context to photos and posts that can help make the information more interesting to others.“They find utility in sharing this,” says Kathryn Zickuhr, a research associate at the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project. A photo or post about a juicy steak, for example, might be more interesting to your friends if they knew it was taken on a trip to Argentina rather than at the steakhouse down the street.Or they may be throwing up their hands on the issue: “People know their phones are already leaving breadcrumbs of where they’ve been,” says Mike Vidikan, an account executive at Innovaro, a company that tracks consumer trends.While adding your locale (automatically or otherwise) may sound innocuous, it can be harmful. “The major thing with this is invasion of privacy,” says Andrew Krabeepetcharat, an industry analyst at IbisWorld. As the so-called Bling Ring proved — this was a group of teen robbers who stole from celebrities like Paris Hilton and Audrina Patridge by checking their social media profiles to see when they weren’t home — criminals can use your whereabouts to rob you. What’s more, there are programs that make discovering your whereabouts from social media easier than ever http://teachingprivacy.icsi.berkeley.edu:8080/. Information like this could be used by criminals (to map out your routines to determine when to commit a crime against you) or the cops or your employer (to prove where you were at a certain time), experts say.Even if you’re not automatically or manually logging your whereabouts through a social media network, a lot of apps and companies already know where you are, says Mullen. He says that many retailer apps, for example, track your movements 24/7 if you enable the location-based tracking, so the company can get data on your routines and what competitor stores you visit. When you use your computer, companies are also looking at your location through your IP address. And even sometimes just by having your smartphone in a store that has Wi-Fi (as long as your smartphone’s Wi-Fi is turned on, which it is on many phones), retailers may be able to get information about you — such as how you move through the store and how long you stay — he adds. http://lifehacker.com/how-retail-stores-track-you-using-your-smartphone-and-827512308To be sure, most apps and programs ask you if you’d like to enable these location-based services, says Krabeepetcharat. And, he adds, the services are typically more useful than harmful. For example, they may allow you to get ads for products and services that are more targeted to your needs, and make Web searches offer up more relevant results — restaurants in the area, for example.
Still, users may want to check the settings on their devices to make sure they aren’t sharing unwanted location-based data. “With a few clicks, you can turn off the location-tracking on your smartphone,” says Krabeepetcharat. Indeed, iPhone users simply click on the Settings icon and then click Privacy to see a list of apps and whether location-based services are enabled for each; on Android phones, you also look under Settings and then under Location and Security, or Location Services. You can also prevent Facebook from sharing your location (there is a little x next to the location when you post, and you simply click that before posting); on Twitter, look under Settings and then under Security and privacy.