Tracking location in 2021

I always feel like somebody’s watchin' me
And I have no privacy
I always feel like somebody’s watchin' me
Tell me is it just a dream?

[Rockwell]

Is the song completely paranoid or is it just 2021 ^^?

Privacy is now a common concern, and if you think you can protect it simply by turning off GPS on your device, you’re wrong.

Facebook, Google, Apple, and the privacy game Permalink to heading Facebook, Google, Apple, and the privacy game

Facebook is now considered the worst student in the privacy classroom, tracking both its users and nonusers on other sites and apps, collecting biometric data without consent, and using artificial intelligence to analyze behaviors.

Source: The New York Times

Its ultimate goal is to sell the precious data to advertisers. That’s the business model.

The wall of fame would not be complete without:

  • multiple and severe data leaks exposing the privacy of hundreds of millions of users (telephone numbers, emails, etc)
  • multiple data collects on WhatsApp (another app owned by Facebook)
  • misleading privacy settings and unclear conditions of use

However, in 2021, this information is in the public domain. Apple and Google have been constantly brought forward “privacy” in their announcements over the past years.

If Facebook is the worst student, Google and Apple are not even at school. They live the street life.

Apple does not care about advertising, it’s not its core business model, but they do collect all kinds of data to track their user.

Google’s core business is advertising.

[update: June 2021]

Still, in the last Google IO (June 2021), they repeat the word “privacy” like hundred times. And isn’t it ironic… don’t you think?

[/update: June 2021]

The era of metadata Permalink to heading The era of metadata

Your location tells a lot about you. Of course, you’re not tapped in the literal sense. Algorithms analyze and cross-check your data.

However, let me tell you what happens.

They respect your privacy, but they know you went to the hospital, and after that you called your parents, and after that you called your girlfriend, and after that you made several Google searches about AIDS, and after that you called your insurance.

Besides, every time you upload a photo on your favorite social network, anybody can access the exif data, which includes your location, if you don’t remove them.

All those precious metadata are sometimes stored with no expiration.

The “nothing to hide” argument Permalink to heading The “nothing to hide” argument

The nothing to hide argument states that individuals have no reason to fear or oppose surveillance programs, unless they are afraid it will uncover their own illicit activities. An individual using this argument may claim that an average person should not worry about government surveillance, as they would have “nothing to hide”

Source: Wikipedia

It sounds like a creepy monologue in a dystopian novel. Still, many people approve this message. I don’t because I think it’s a misleading argument.

If what I have to hide is nothing, then why big companies care so much about this “nothing”? Why do they spend millions to collect data about my boring life, especially where I am?

These are highly strategic data, not as individuals, but as group of people with similar behaviors.

Mobile phones speak loud Permalink to heading Mobile phones speak loud

Mobile phones allow you to disable geolocation. However, there’s a known technique called wifi triangulation, which relies on nearby wifi routers. Google and Apple have access to a worldwide database of wifi routers and their locations.

wifi triangulation is not possible without consent

It’s true, and most of the time, you give that consent to an app, but even if you don’t consent or remove that consent, your location and your MAC address are sent to the nearby wifi routers when you scan for wifi networks. That’s how it works on Android and iOS.

There’s no opt out. You would have to use other alternative systems like Linux phones.

It’s not complicated for techies, but it’s not at everybody’s reach.

How to protect Permalink to heading How to protect

  • use a VPN
  • consider alternative OS for your mobile phone
  • remove exif data from your pics
  • don’t browse the web while connected to your gmail account
  • use alternative search engines

There’s no way to completely vanish as each device has a unique serial number. Besides, phone companies and ISPs have legal duties. Authorities can ping any device if necessary (security reasons).

However, you don’t have to run your own reality show for the GAFA.

Wrap up Permalink to heading Wrap up

Protect your location. It’s critical and you should hide it as much as possible from data collectors.

Photo by henry perks on Unsplash