Getting Tracked Via Smartphones

The big issue this past week was that iPhone and iPad keep files of users’ location data which raises legal and ethical questions. Apple Inc., the manufacturer of the devices, was mum on the controversy but said that the location data that the company collects is kept anonymous and cannot be tied back to specific users. Google Inc. said the same thing about location data that is stored on smartphones that run its Android software. Both companies have maintained that the practice is clearly outlined in their privacy policies.

Technically, what does the two giant companies collect? Apple Inc., according to news report, said in a letter that the company sent US Congress last year that it only collects information on the location of nearby cell towers and Wi-Fi networks of the mobile service providers that the devices connect to. However, security researchers have discovered that iPhones and iPads do store individuals’ geographic coordinates and have been doing so for at least a year.

The tracking information appears to stay on the above-mentioned devices but it can also be transferred to computers that the devices are synchronized to and this is a cause of worry to some especially those with security concerns. Those with physical access to the phone, including lost or stolen devices, could see the data if they know how.

Can smartphone users prevent this information from being collected? Yes, it can be done by turning off the tracking capability through the settings menus of both Apple’s  iPhones and other phones built on Google’s Android operating software. Unfortunately, doing so will make a lot of useful smartphone applications such as maps and the social media services inoperable. Turning off tracking means those applications will prevent access to your Global Positioning System (GPS) locations.

For the security conscious who are already using smartphones, is it time to throw them away and revert to ‘dumb’ phones? I, personally, will not do that. Why should I? I am in Marikina City but my so-called smartphone show Quezon City as my location. After all, not all smartphones are that smart. I’m only kidding but it’s true that I live near the boundary of the two (2) cities.

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