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Surprise Location-Tracking Apps & Your Digital Security

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Your smartphone might seem like a great way to log your exercise habits, keep up with friends online, or just pass the time with a game, but turns out those activities could actually be keeping track of your every movement. Smartphone apps may be monitoring your searches, or even collecting data about your friends from your contacts list without you even knowing it. Steven Knight looks at this disturbing trend in smartphone technology and what you can do about it.

In the age where our cell phones have become practically attached to our bodies, we often take for granted the convenience of having a phone, dictionary, encyclopedia, GPS system, music player, gaming system, and all of the other amazing things that our phones do to make our lives easier, however, many of those fun, free, apps are not as benign as they seem.  Some of the most popular smartphone apps on the market apps are not just following you and collecting your data, they are following and collecting data from your kids and their friends as well.

You may be surprised to find that quite a few major apps also have location tracking enabled by default.  Many popular apps such as Angry Birds, Pandora, Shazam, and even Dictionary.com come with location tracking enabled.

The good news is that the FTC is working to end this practice. At the start of the month, the FTC released a statement that the mobile industry should include a feature on apps that allows users to turn off tracking.  In addition to their statement against the hidden tracking practices the FTC hit Path, a social networking app, with an $800,000 fine for violating federal privacy protections for children after it was discovered that the app was collecting information on underage users as well as those in the user’s contacts list.

Fortunately there are some ways to avoid unwanted tracking.  Android users can disable location caching by unselecting the “Use Wireless Networks” box in the Location and Security options in their settings.  Those with Windows phones can disable location tracking by sliding off the “location” bar in the settings menu.  Unfortunately for those Apple users out there, you won’t be able to disable tracking without first jailbreaking your device and downloading an app to shut off the service.

As the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch – or in this case a free app.  Many free apps will request access to information that has no logical connection to the application, especially games. Does that tic-tac-toe app really need access to your contact list?

One option is to double check who it is that you are downloading the app from.  Many publishers will attempt to trick users into downloading a third-party app which tracks location and data use under the guise of the official app, fake Pinterest apps are particularly notorious for this.  In order to best avoid downloading an app that will be spying on you, always look into the publisher as well as the permissions that the app requires.

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By Steven Knight for PeterGreenberg.com

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