DFS #4: What devices are tracking me?

icon-1968240_960_720What types of devices are tracking my location?

There has been a long-established estimate that the average human encounters 4,000-5,000 ads in his/her day. As astonishing as this is, it makes more sense by simply looking around your immediate area and noticing all of the company branding you can see. Just like the exponentially-infectious presence of ads in our daily lives, we are bombarded with devices that wish to track us.

What devices can hold location data?

The shorthand answer:

We deal with numerous objects that track our movements and location, daily. From cellphones and laptops, to internet browsers and apps, companies are logging our location data. Although originally intended for efficiency and relevant ad selection, this same data can be used for rescue operations and criminal law cases. The exact number of devices and applications tracking a person’s movement varies based on permissions given by the user and tech devices used.

Devices:

We are increasingly seeing more and more devices being portablized for users. We are also seeing the engagement of internet capabilities into everyday devices to allow for fluid daily use. This greatly expands the possibilities of devices tracking and location information on a user. It is important to recognize that ‘location’ data can be a lot more than a simple pin-point position on a map based on GPS. The following list contains devices that can track location:

  • Cellular phones: Embedded GPS, WiFi signal searching, Bluetooth signal searching, and cell towers are constantly generating forms of location data. 
  • Smartwatches: Activity trackers, and smartwatches are in constant communication with devices around them. Most are fitted with GPS devices, while some even have LTE capabilities, introducing cell tower tracking.
  • Tablets: WiFi signal searching, Bluetooth signal searching, and some have LTE capabilities.
  • IOT (Internet Of Things): Now that ordinary devices are becoming fitted with WiFi communication capabilities, the connection between your phone, the device, and the device’s servers, generate data when you use the device.  In many situations, this can help link you to that location at a specific time.

Software:

Due to the rapid inclusion of various tracking methods into everyday devices, and generational pleasure of total connectivity, software is beginning to request location information. In many cases this data helps propose more relevant ads or services to users. For instance, yelp would benefit from knowing which restaurants are nearby, and uber would benefit from knowing where a customer is located. However, applications are now also implementing more location data tracking so they can include more user features. Snapchat famously added the ‘snapmap’ capability so its users can see where their friends are on the map. Regardless of how the information is used, GPS location data can be used, and possibly stored, by users and their accounts by many mobile applications. The following applications are just a few that utilize location data are:

  • Snapchat
  • Google
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Uber
  • Maps

Location Aware:

It does not matter if you are a person who is simply wishing to learn what devices know their location, or an investigator who needs to find location data on a suspect. Regardless of the reasoning, location data of users is being utilized/tracked numerous times throughout a day. It is a very difficult task to not leave any digital footprints which tie an individual to a specific location and time.

Remember to think outside the box when searching for items that can hold any location information. Applications may use location for ads, sales, or special capabilities. Some devices may collect your location without you even thinking about it. If you stay aware and analyze how each item works, you will have a much better understanding of where location information might exist. Although your non-smart tv is probably not able to tell anyone where your location is, your smart watch could. Even having the login information to your google account could potentially lead to an immense amount of location data that Google stores on its servers. Finally, remember that location information is not only restricted to GPS location. Cell towers, WiFi connections, and even IOT device actions could help show an individual was in a specific area, at a specific time.

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