Hello friends, I’m glad to be back to continue our exploration of the risks associated with personal information collection. In our previous articles, we’ve covered the risks of facial recognition and data enrichment.
This time, we will be focusing on one of the most commonly collected pieces of data: geolocation. We’ll also discuss how you can have your geolocation data erased if it’s already been collected.
Geolocation refers to the ability to determine your precise location at a given time, including your latitude, longitude, altitude, and more. While it used to primarily involve fixed points like your home or workplace, mobility has increased significantly in the past decade and a half. Now, devices like smartphones, tablets, GPS satellites, and even connected watches all have unique identifiers that can track your movements both indoors and outdoors.
But it’s not just about tracking your movements. Geolocation data can also include information on the places you frequent, such as your favorite stores, how much time you spend away from home, where you buy your medicines, and more. This data is stored directly on your device and can also be retrieved by various means:
- Applications (SDKs) installed on your device
- Servers of advertisements displayed on the sites you visit
- Triangulation of Wi-Fi points and cell phone towers
- Specific equipment like beacons in public or commercial buildings and more.
Let’s take advertising as a concrete example. When you connect to a website or mobile game from your apartment, the ad server may collect information about your device type and precise location in order to display relevant ads. Google, for instance, has a page that explains how they use your location data. The more information collected from various sources, the more comprehensive a profile can be created about you.
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As you can imagine, the data collected through geolocation is not always precise and there are tools to protect your privacy (more on that below). However, this data is highly valuable to many companies. It allows them to better understand their customers, create targeted ads, deliver promotions when you’re near a store, and more. In a few years, it’s likely that these possibilities will become a part of everyday life.
Data brokers are eager to obtain this information (legally or not) because it allows them to sell their databases more easily. By linking a person’s movements to their name, email, and physical address (data that’s already been collected en masse), data brokers can create a nearly complete profile of an individual’s life. When combined with facial recognition technology, the concept of Big Brother surveillance becomes much more than just a hobbyist’s concern.
The purpose of this article is to help you learn how to regularly erase your personal data. By doing so, you can prevent your personal information from accumulating over time and creating a comprehensive profile of your online activity. We’ll also explore how to create ‘noise’ around your profile to remain anonymous in the masses and make it harder for data brokers to track you.
As mentioned earlier, fortunately, there are ways to limit the perpetual sharing of our geolocation. Simply disabling geolocation by default won’t change much apart from saving battery life. So, we need to take additional measures.
Start by installing a privacy-focused browser like Brave or Firefox, surf in private mode, and/or add a cookie/ad blocker.
Regularly clearing cache and deleting cookies also helps. To enhance privacy further, use a VPN like Surfshark and/or install anti-tracking extensions like uBlock or Ghostery.
The level of protection you need depends on your requirements and online habits.
Also, remember to be mindful of your online presence. If you take steps to protect your personal information but then share your location on social media by tagging your photos, for example, it can undermine your efforts. Additionally, remember to disable geolocation and GPS by default and limit each application’s access to only what is necessary. It’s better to authorize access on a case-by-case basis when needed (which doesn’t happen often in the end) than to leave your personal data exposed all the time.
From a legal standpoint, data harvesting is regulated by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which requires companies to obtain explicit consent from users before collecting and processing their personal data. This means that companies must inform users about the types of data they will collect, the purposes for which the data will be used, and how long the data will be retained.
However, the problem is that this consent is often buried in lengthy terms and conditions that users are required to accept without fully understanding what they are agreeing to. This is why it is important for users to read the terms and conditions carefully before accepting them.
Moreover, even if the data does not identify a user precisely, it can still be used to infer personal information about the user when combined with other data sources. This is known as data aggregation, and it can lead to a loss of privacy.
Therefore, it is important for users to be vigilant about their personal data and take steps to protect it, such as limiting the amount of personal information they share online and regularly reviewing their privacy settings.
Protecting Your Privacy: The Best Services to Prevent Geolocation Data Collection
In today’s digital age, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain privacy online. The rise of social media platforms, online shopping, and other digital services has made it easier than ever for companies to collect and use your personal data for various purposes. One of the ways in which this data is collected is through geolocation, which allows companies to track your physical location and use that information to target you with ads or other content.
Fortunately, there are several services available that can help prevent geolocation data from being collected and used to track your online activity. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best services for protecting your online privacy.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
A virtual private network, or VPN, is a service that encrypts your internet traffic and routes it through a remote server, masking your IP address and preventing your internet service provider (ISP) from tracking your online activity. This makes it an excellent tool for preventing geolocation data from being collected.
When you connect to a VPN, your traffic is routed through a server located in a different country or region, making it appear as though you are accessing the internet from that location. This can be useful for bypassing geo-restrictions on content, but it can also help protect your privacy by preventing companies from tracking your physical location.
There are many VPN providers available, each with its own features and pricing plans. Some popular options include NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and Surfshark. When choosing a VPN, it’s important to look for one that has a no-logs policy, meaning they do not keep any records of your online activity.
The Tor Browser is a free and open-source web browser that is designed to help you browse the internet anonymously. When you use the Tor Browser, your internet traffic is routed through a network of volunteer-run servers, making it difficult for anyone to track your online activity.
One of the benefits of the Tor Browser is that it automatically blocks scripts and other content that can be used to track your online activity. It also encrypts your traffic and prevents your ISP from monitoring your online activity.
While the Tor Browser can be a bit slower than other web browsers, it’s an excellent tool for protecting your privacy online. It’s important to note that the Tor Browser is not a VPN, and it does not encrypt your entire internet connection like a VPN would.
Ad and Tracker Blockers
Ad and tracker blockers are browser extensions or apps that are designed to block ads and prevent companies from tracking your online activity. These tools work by blocking scripts and other content that can be used to track your online activity, making it more difficult for companies to collect your personal data.
Popular ad and tracker blockers include uBlock Origin, Ghostery, and Privacy Badger. Some web browsers, such as Brave, also include built-in ad and tracker blocking features.
While ad and tracker blockers can be effective at preventing companies from collecting your personal data, they may not be as effective as VPNs or the Tor Browser at preventing geolocation data from being collected.
Location Spoofing Tools
Location spoofing tools are apps or services that allow you to fake your physical location. These tools work by using a VPN or other technology to make it appear as though you are accessing the internet from a different location than your actual physical location.
Location spoofing tools can be useful for preventing companies from tracking your physical location, but they may not be as effective as other tools at protecting your privacy. Some popular location spoofing tools include Fake GPS Location and Hola VPN.
It’s important to note that some location spoofing tools have been found to be insecure or even malicious. Before using any location spoofing tool, be sure to do your research and choose a reputable provider.
Privacy is the right to control and protect one’s personal information, including sensitive and private information, from being accessed or used by others without consent. In the digital age, privacy has become increasingly important as individuals share more and more personal information online.
Privacy can be protected through various means, such as implementing strong passwords, using two-factor authentication, and being cautious about what information is shared online. However, these measures may not always be sufficient, particularly when it comes to preventing geolocation data from being collected and used.
Geolocation data refers to information that identifies an individual’s physical location, such as GPS coordinates or Wi-Fi network information. This data can be collected by companies through various means, including mobile apps, web browsers, and social media platforms. It can then be used to track an individual’s movements, target them with ads, and even sell the data to third parties.
To prevent geolocation data from being collected and used, individuals can use various privacy tools, such as virtual private networks (VPNs), the Tor Browser, ad and tracker blockers, location spoofing tools, and privacy-focused search engines. These tools work by encrypting internet traffic, masking IP addresses, blocking scripts and other content that can be used to track online activity, and faking physical locations.
While these tools can be effective at protecting privacy, it’s important to remember that no tool is foolproof. Companies are constantly finding new ways to collect and use personal data, and individuals must remain vigilant about their online activity and the information they share.
In addition to using privacy tools, individuals can also take steps to protect their privacy offline, such as shredding sensitive documents and locking their personal devices. It’s also important to be aware of privacy laws and regulations in your country or region, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union.
Ultimately, protecting privacy requires a multi-faceted approach that involves both technological tools and personal responsibility. By staying informed and taking proactive steps to protect personal information, individuals can help safeguard their privacy in the digital age.