How Much Information Is Your Smartphone Sharing?

There has been a lot of discussion recently of privacy-focused smartphones that offers encryption for all your calls and texts. Until these devices become commonplace, if they do, how much information are you currently showing off to the world? Your phone holds your life… from your contacts, to your emails & pictures, to places you’ve been, and so much more. It’s really scary to think of how much information can be collected and stored about you and kept for a long time.

We’ll start with the very basics. This day and age many of you are using Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. You take picture with your phone and post them online. You also take video capturing the moments wherever you are. More than likely you are home, or near home when you take these shots, right? So how much information are you sharing with the world that you had no idea?

Facebook Messenger Location Services

Recently I was talking to a new friend on Facebook Messenger in which I had never met before. Unbeknownst to her, she had her location settings on and displaying where she was. I could simply click to see her location to pinpoint exactly… and I do mean exactly… where she was. I could literally pick which corner of the house she was in. At first I thought how funny it would be to just play a joke and ask her where she lived and then explain how I live nearby, then give her a street name and act like I was a neighbor. Instead I just was like “FYI… your location setting is on”. Now if your entire Facebook friend list is comprised of close friends and family that you would like for them to know where you are anytime you’re chatting away… then yeah, leave that on. Otherwise I suggest turning it off. Facebook collects this data and uses it as a filter in their Facebook Ads settings where advertisers can select to target you while you’re away from home, on vacation, or just returning from vacation.

Action Step: Go to Facebook settings and turn off Messenger Location Services. Alternatively, you may disable this per message in the messenger box.

Twitter Tweets Location

This one is pretty obvious that you can share your location. Turning it off is pretty plain and simple, as you just click the location icon  when you’re about to post to turn it off. The website pleaserobme.com demonstrates this through their efforts in raising awareness about over-sharing online.

Instagram Photo Map

instagram photo map

There was a recent news segment on Instagram I think that talked about geotagged photos. We’ll get into that in a second. Ok, so Instagram has the same sort of thing going on with putting on a map where you took the photo (and maybe just where you uploaded it). If your phone is geotagging photos then one could simply find you on instagram and see where you live. Many of you openly display your username to strangers on apps like Tinder and other public sites. This allows anyone to simply click on your image to bring up Google Maps and show where it was taken… most likely your house. Now they know where you live. Using Google street view they can now even take a peek around neighborhood.

Action Step: Don’t geo-tag photos and remove any that you have from your map… unless of course you want them there.

Geo-Tagged Photos

This is where a lot of information can be getting out whenever you post a photo, email a photo, or text a photo to someone. I’m not saying you have to turn off location settings on your photos. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to group pictures by location. Sometimes you may just want to remember where you were when the picture was taken. However, when you post the image somewhere in it’s raw form… all the metadata about the picture will also be available. Here’s a picture I took today with the details next to it. This is just some of the information that is being attached to each photo. You could pop in those coordinates into Google Maps and it would bring up the location. If it weren’t for the spoon in the picture, I would have you do it and guess where I went.

20140306_123740Screenshot_2014-03-06-18-32-47

Apps

The privacy and security of apps always leaves me a little skeptical. Especially when it lists everything it has access to… text, sd card, emails, accounts, camera, etc. Now I know what apps are supposed to have access to, just like what computer software is supposed to have access to. Yet, somehow… these barriers are crossed from time to time where access to sensitive information is attainable. To understand how much of a privacy concern you should have, one must understand an app is just that… an app. It’s software written in a way to show you what it wants you to see while performing any action it can get access to. Technically, and not to bring upon fear, an app could access your camera at any moment and broadcast what it sees. It could access all your images and upload them to a remote location. If an app can do this for altruistic purposes, it has the capacity to do it for other purposes too or if imposed on by the Government.

I think the issue of privacy is becoming more prevalent today because of the lack of it. There are many conversations I have with people about what information they share or that is available online that they find haunting. With a minimal amount of information, and I do mean minimal… one could find out more information about someone than most of their close friends and family are aware of.

On a bigger scale… there is quite a large collection of data that is being collected about you, your life, who you interact with, all your credit card transactions tied in with your shopping patterns, where you frequent, and much much more. Most of the time this data is put together to create information to better market you products and services, but not all the time.

A few good related reads…

http://mashable.com/2013/06/28/encryption-apps/
http://mashable.com/2014/02/26/boeing-black-phone/
http://mashable.com/2014/02/24/what-is-blackphone/
http://mashable.com/2014/03/05/snowden-phone/

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