For Consumer

Avoiding the Dangers Lurking in Location-based Services

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Fall 2013 — Security News and Advice


Location-based services have brought fun and convenience to our mobile devices, allowing us to easily find destinations, friends, and deals. For instance, applications like Foursquare, Facebook and Yelp allow you to “check in” at places using your mobile phone, and then share your location with friends or on social networks. Some businesses even provide discounts or freebies as a reward for checking in.

But while these services can make connecting with people and locations easier, they also pose some risks. For example, you may not mind sharing your exact location with friends and family, but what about with people you don’t know? When your location is broadcast on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, you lose control of the information. Anyone can see it. Say you check into a hotel while on vacation. A thief could see your check-in, do an online search for your home address and rob you while you’re away.

What’s more, kids and teens like to use these services to help them meet up with friends, but imagine what could happen if your child’s exact location fell into the wrong hands. (The application knows where you are because it taps into your phone’s GPS longitude and latitude data.) That’s why parents need to be particularly vigilant if their kids use location-based services.

GPS data can also be included in image files, so when you take a photo using your mobile device it includes your exact location in the file automatically unless this “geo-tagging” feature is turned off. This technology is prevalent in images and videos taken by both smartphones and digital cameras.

This is troublesome because many of us are unaware of this feature, even though sharing images online has become immensely popular. Sites such as Instagram, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube are filled with pictures and videos that include location information. So, you could be inadvertently telling people where you are – or where you’ve been– – just by sharing what you may think are innocent photos.

Here are some tips to use location services safely:

  • Turn off the GPS function on your smartphone camera or digital camera. This is important if you are going to be sharing your images online. Instructions on how to turn off geotagging will vary, but we suggest referring to your phone or camera’s manual for further instructions on how to adjust this feature. You also might want to consider only letting certain apps (like maps) use your location data on your mobile device.
  • Check your privacy settings on social networks and photo sharing sites. Make sure that you are only sharing information with friends and family. Also, make sure that you only accept people into your network that you know in real life.
  • Be aware of the fact that the information you share on one social network may be linked to another. For instance, a photo you post to Twitter may automatically post to your Facebook profile. Because of this, it’s important that you check the privacy settings on all your accounts.
  • Finally, be careful about what images you’re sharing and when you are sharing them. Rather than uploading a picture that reveals your location the moment you take it, wait until you get home to upload it.

Just being aware of how much information your apps and other location-based services gather can help you make better choices about your privacy. To increase your security, you may also want to consider protecting your devices with comprehensive security software, like McAfee LiveSafe™ service, or if you just need protection for your mobile devices, check out McAfee® Mobile Security.


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