The internet and wireless communications become a regular part of our daily lives, which has led to several helpful conveniences. For instance, location-based services for apps Google Maps, Uber, and Foursquare can make it easier to get where you need to be or find new places in your local community. Additionally, social media platforms often encourage people to share personal information about where they live for the sake of getting more personalized ads or connecting with friends.

However, while these apps and service might make our lives more convenient in some ways, they also present some serious risks. What might seem harmless at first glance can present issues ranging from irritating to potential dangerous. To protect yourself, it is important to know what kind of location-based data you are sharing online and how this data could potentially be used.

What Is Geo-Tagging?

Geo-Tagging is the process of adding location information in the form of geographical identification metadata to various media, including photos, videos, SMS messages, and website posts. This information can include co-ordinates (latitude and longitude), bearings, distances, and place names. Most location-based services offered by apps and internet-capable devices use some form of Geo-Tagging, typically powered through the global positioning system (GPS) or satellite positioning used by your computer, network, or mobile device.

How Is It Used?

Geo-Tagging serves a variety of different purposes. For mobile devices, one of the most common uses of Geo-Tagging is to associate a location with the pictures or video shot by smartphone camera or recording device. This can confirm where exactly a picture or video was taken, which can be useful for several reasons. Many apps also use geotagging to provide directions or targeted advertising. Additionally, most social networks and their related services have some form of geo-tagging to track the location of their subscribers, allowing users to include information in their posts that highlights their current location.

What Are The Downsides?

Geo-Tagging can be very useful, but it comes with a number of potential risks for users. For one, location services and other apps that use Geo-Tagging could sell your information to advertisers, who can then use this data to provide you with targeted advertising based on your position. This can quickly result in lots of unwanted spam. New changes are being made that require mobile apps to ask for permission to use such data, but it’s still easy to give permission without realizing if you aren’t fully paying attention.

More importantly though, there are serious privacy and safety risks involved in the use of Geo-Tagging. If you give enough information about your current whereabouts, it can allow malicious parties to target you and your loved ones. For instance, thieves can find out where you live, then target your home after seeing posts showing that you’re on vacation. Alternatively, if someone has personal issues with your or a loved one, Geo-Tagging can tell them exactly where they can find you.

Staying Safe

If you want to keep your whereabouts as private as possible, you should consider disabling Geo-Tagging and location tracking on your apps, photos, and devices. For smartphones and other mobile devices, permissions for Geo-Tagging are typically included under Location Services or Location & Security settings. From there, you can enable or disable the use of Geo-Tagging on your device.

Specific applications and social media platforms also have permissions regarding the use of Geo-Tagging and location data, which can typically be found under Privacy, Security, or Location settings, depending on the app/platform. Note that if you still want to use location services, many apps have options to make your location data non searchable and unavailable to the public. This at the very least adds an additional layer of security.

Beyond disabling track on your devices and apps though, you should also be more cautious of the information that you share online, along with teaching your children or other younger family members to do the same. Even posting a seemingly innocent photo or making regular updates pointing out your daily schedule can provide a lot of information. It’s easy to think that only your friends and family can see what you post, but you should always act under the assumption that ANYONE could.

Going forward, consider whether the convenience offered by Geo-Tagging is worth the potential risks. Most people probably don’t think about the downsides of location tracking, oblivious of just how much information they are making public. By being aware of these potential risks, you can make better and more informed decisions about which apps you allow to track your location.