Know Your Phone, And Use The Power Of Locations To Your Advantage

Jack is a Sydney-based news watcher, music lover and politics hack who occasionally lists things in threes.


Approx 5 minute reading time

There are two types of people, and just like there are Pro-Pineapple on Pizza people, and Anti-Pineapple on Pizza people, the world is split into two camps: Pro-Location Services, and Anti-Location Services.

Your phone is a phenomenal little second brain, it’s made our lives easier in so many ways, but as with every piece of new technology, there can be trade offs.

Location Services straddle a fine line between something that is great if used correctly, and disastrous if used incorrectly.

With Locations turned on, your phone can tell you where you are on a map, where your photos were taken, what the temperature in your local area is today, what the closest (& best) coffee shops are, where you last parked your car and it can remind you to buy milk when you leave work. These are all quite useful, and magical phone-induced superpowers that are difficult to use maliciously.

And there’s more. You can tag a snapchat with your location in real time, you can tell the world where you shot your gram, and if you’re particularly prone to FOMO, you can even add friends to a little map so you can see if they’re close by. However, these last three, location-using internet-concoctions can be both brilliant, or catastrophic, dependent on how they’re used.

Snapchat can give you some ace little filters, that show what uni, beach, city you might be in. This gives your snaps a bit of flavor, but if you’re uploading snaps in real time, there’s every chance someone might see your snap and head your way. There are just “too many creeps”, said pro surfer Felicity Palmateer when asked why she avoids the mix of location tags and social media, “I just don’t want people knowing where I am every second of the day. I sometimes make a video on my Snapchat and post it a few hours later.” So if you just use Snapchat with friends, you should be all good, but if you use it publicly, it’s worth considering whether those location tags are worthwhile…

Instagram used to give us all a beautiful little map which you could flick through and proclaim ‘I’VE BEEN TO PLACES AND ACHIEVED THINGS IN MY LIFE.’ Instagram still lets you tag your photos location, but it’s killed the map, and probably for good reason. While the map was great for tracking your travels, it was slightly dangerous if you were posting from home on the reg, because a disproportionate amount of posts in one location would scream ‘I LIVE HERE’ from a public instagram account. In the US, a grade-A creep used Instagram to work out the homes of several college students, before stealing from them, all because their ‘map’ was enabled on their public instagram accounts.

The accidental unveiling of your home location is not just an Instagram problem. Strava, an app that tracks your cycling rides, introduced a feature to hide the start and end of user’s routes to stop a spate of bicycle thefts. The thieves would use the app to spot where cyclists lived based on the location where their circuit began and ended.

Find my Friends is an app I swear by. If I’m catching up with a friend, I’ll share my location so they can work out how long it’ll take me to reach them, or what part of Central Station I’m standing in. If I don’t know the address of wherever I am, I can shoot off the location so my mate can meet me there, or I can quickly see if my parents are home to make sure I’m making a catch-up phone call at a convenient time.

However, whilst I love my it, I make sure to keep a close eye on who I have ‘following’ my location. Whilst you can only follow people’s location if they give their consent, this ‘safety switch’ has been abused in the past. Early on in the life of the app, some guy jumped on a forum to brag about secretly putting Find my Friend’s on his wife’s iPhone to catch her cheating. While that’s some shady ethics from both camps, the wife in this situation was caught out because she presumably didn’t monitor what was tracking her location, let alone know how to fix location services to begin with.

And so now I have crushed any of the trust you had in your phone’s connectedness, here’s some solutions to get the best out of Location Services whilst avoiding the worst.

Go into settings, then privacy and then location services. In here is a long list of every app that’s ever asked to track your location. You can click them on and off at will, or you can click ‘only while using app’ to restrict it’s tracking to when you need it most (you might even save some precious battery life by doing so).

Before that, in settings, you’ll find a list of people who are currently tracking your location using Find My Friends, and at the bottom, you’ll find a list of phone services that can be clicked on and off as well.

What the location services logo looks like

Know your icons, if the tracking logo appears at the top of your phone and you’re unsure what it’s for, swing back into settings, which outlines what apps have been tracking your location in the past 24 hours.

Keep your home private, if an application is building maps or sharing your location publicly, turn it off, especially while at home. You can make sure you don’t start fitness tracking apps at your front door, or don’t tag your home as a location in an image posting app. If you can have the location active at other times and bar it from disclosing your home’s location to everyone, even better. Any app that leaves a paper trail back to your own home is not worth giving access to, and if an app is disclosing too much information, it’s likely it’ll hit the news. In that case, take action immediately!

Just like you wouldn’t allow anyone to babysit your smol pupper to anyone other than a close friend, only share your location with close friends and people you would trust with your doge’s life. If you use Find My Friends, check back in regularly to make sure your list of followers and following doesn’t change without you knowing.

Get to know your phone better. You use it every day, you might as well flicker through the settings when you get the chance. The more intimately you know your phone, the less likely it is that it’ll be beaming your location anywhere without your knowledge.

Location Services are a fantastic and wonderful tool that can make life considerably easier, but it’s worth being on top of what information is going where, to make sure you know who is seeing your information.