I don’t know anyone without a smartphone. We all use it. And most of us, if not all, take our phone wherever we go. We think we own our phone, and that our phone only does what we tell him to do. However, when your phone is resting in your pocket it is actively collecting a lot of data. Like tracking your location for example. Do you know what these apps can do with your sensor data? It is very hard for us to understand the use of all this data. How many apps do you have on your phone? How many are running while you are not using them? Do you still remember what you gave them access to when you downloaded them? I don’t the answers to those questions, I don’t exactly know what my apps do, and to what I gave them access to. To understand a little bit about what the sensors on your phone can do, I wrote this blog to understand only one sensor; “GPS”. I used the Moves app to further understand how GPS-signals can be used.
The Moves-app is simple app that (on a superficial level) motivates you to move. Moves is a simple application that uses your GPS-signal to track your location. During the days it is silently running and at the end of the day you get a notification of how many steps you made and how much you cycled during the day (the steps are not really accurate). If you go to the app on your phone you can furthermore review the places you visited and how much time you traveled using transport. Thus, the app does not give that much data to you. You can review every day but not much more than that. That looks quite innocent. However, if you connect Moves with Move-o-Scope, you are reaching its full potential. Suddenly you can view your whole history in one map . You can look at everything, you can look how much you cycled, walked, or where you run. Suddenly you see what is capable by only tracking the GPS-signal of the phone. For this blog I have been using the app from June 2016 until October 2016. I have been using Moves for a longer period but unfortunately I lost that data.
If that isn’t scary enough
Of course, if Moves knows through which streets I cycle, it also knows on which spots I arrive. Moves knows exactly the places I visit. And how often I visit them. The size of the circles on the map represent the frequency I visit that place. If you click on it, Move-O-scope gives a simple info-graphic (see next picture). On the picture you can see how often I visited my parents’ house. I visited their house 15 times in the period that I tracked with Moves. My mom would surely use my data against me to say that I don’t visit her that much (uh-oh). Furthermore, Move-O-scope gives me information which days I visited, at what hours I am there often, from which place I came from when visiting them, and where I want afterwards. That is a lot, a lot of information.
Of course, Moves is not the only apps that knows your location. Thousands of apps ask permission to use your location. Apps like Facebook, Google-maps, Twitter, Whatsapp, Foursquare, Snapchat, Instagram, Tinder, and Happn use your location. If you don’t like that; you can easily turn-off your location tracking (here’s how: iOS or Android). However, there are some things you should consider before turning it off. Because there are some advantages as well.
The advantages and disadvantages of location tracking
There are several aspects that some of you might consider as an advantage, and others as disadvantages of location-tracking. I will discuss a few.
Suppose you are accused of murder. You are at the police office under interrogation and the cop is looking fiercely at you, and screams: “WHERE WERE YOU LAST NIGHT?!”. Anxiously you respond; “I was driving my car, sir.”. “Who can confirm that?!”. “No one, sir…..” On exactly that moment you have your evidence. You have the Moves app running. You can show the cop exactly where you were last night. Well, at least you can show where your phone was. If you ever plan to murder someone you might not like Moves tracking your whereabouts. However, if you are not planning on killing anyone soon then you might get away from being wrongly accused of murder by turning the Moves-app on.
Not only in court this might be useful. Showing your app as proof in other situations might also help you. You might use it when your significant other is suspecting you from cheating or when you are arguing with your boss why you are late. If you turn location tracking on you are completely honest, if you turn it off you act on your rights of privacy.
Who knows these scratch-maps of the world on which you can scratch the countries that you visited? Isn’t it fun to see all the places that you visited and remember all the things you saw on those trips? Well, we don’t need the maps anymore. You just have your app showing you your history. Plus, in the app you can zoom in to exact street you visited in that country. But on the downside; you can’t scratch.
To learn and reflect
There are many things to learn from your history of travelling. Do you travel enough? Where didn’t you traveled yet? Have you seen everything in your city?
I reviewed my map a while ago and saw that I never ever visited a street that was very close to my house. That was weird. I have been living in my city for five years now. I have been travelling to Indonesia to see everything, but I realised that I hardly know my own city. There are so many streets in my city that I never visited, so many places undiscovered. After I saw this, I have been purposely taking other routes in my city to widen my world.
Are you lost?
It is hard to organize a dropping today. A dropping is a Dutch game where you get “dropped” in the woods in the dark with the purpose to find your way back by yourself without any guidance. Today the kids would just turn on their phones, look at google-maps and walk straight back home. Even though this seems normal, it is crazy that we as a humanity are so advanced that we are able to do this. Location services make you able to do this. Of course, your phone does not have to track you 24/7 in case you get lost, but there are cases that it would be great to track people. Children or older adults with Alzheimer can still get lost. Or what if you are being kidnapped? Wouldn’t it be great if there is an app that can show your family the last place you used your phone before being kidnapped?
Many fun developments
There are many phone applications that make good use of your location. Dating sites like Tinder or Happn use your location to find single near to you. Find my friends notifies you when your friends are near. There is this thing called figure running where the goal is to draw a nice figure using the route that you
run. Businesses like Airbnb, Uber, Tripadvisor and many other new-age developments need your location to optimize their services. Aren’t you joining them? Aren’t you moving along with these developments? Again, not all of these apps need to use 24/7 access to your location. But the more they develop, the more they might track you.
Moves and other apps might use or sell your data to target their advertisements. If they know where you are, if they know your interests, than they might show advertisements specifically for you. Would that be awesome or super annoying? The less data they have about you, the less they can target their advertisements. The more annoying the advertisements are. This is something what we are used to now on the television. You see commercials about diapers while you don’t have any kids. You see commercials about wheelchairs when you are just turning 25. However, this is changing. Many websites use a kind of focused marketing already. If you just googled for new shoes, you’ll see many advertisements of other shoes all over the web. The more data (like location) you give to them, the more interested you’ll become in their advertisements. You might think that would be quite nice, but there is also a downside to this. You will get very lazy, and super-consumer you don’t need to think for yourself anymore. Furthermore, if you only receive targeted advertisements, you start living in a self-obsessed world. The things you are not interested in disappear from your screen, thus disappear from your world. Is that bad? Yes, you might think so. Maybe I’ll write a more thorough blog about this somewhere in the future.
Thus, on or off?
That is something that is something that is still up to you. There are many disadvantages and advantages about it. The people and business around you are more and more using technology like location tracking to optimize their services. The more you share, the better their services. However, there are some (many) downsides. That might make you hop off that train of technology. Of course you can turn-off your location and only turn it on when you need it. Nobody bothers. But I can assure you that in the future, apps more and more will ask you to turn on your location services all the time, if not insist you.