Location Apps on Smartphones

A techy article about the wonders of location apps in our smartphones—if “properly shared”—in Sunday’s Wall Street Journal caught my eye. The author’s piece centered on the alleged benefits of automatically sharing your personal location data with a selected audience (usually family members) and the app providers’ directions for how to achieve “proper sharing,” supposedly limiting the location sharing to that selected audience.

The author missed the larger problem, though: the intrinsic lack of security on those apps, especially given the historical disdain for personal information security on the part of some of those providers.

I won’t share my location, ever. It wasn’t necessary before such apps became available, and it isn’t necessary today. My smartphone has a—wait for it—telephone app that I can use to check in with and/or check on the ones about whom I care.

The location data in these apps simply aren’t as secure as the touters make them out to be. Data that are held anywhere but on my personal devices are vulnerable to exposure, whether by “mistake”—last week’s IRS release of tax records (which is all too routine for this government agency) comes to mind—or programming mistakes, or cloud or providers’ servers being hacked, or the receivers’ devices being hacked, or location history being vulnerable to government information demands, or….

Location data that aren’t in the cloud or on those other servers and that aren’t being transmitted to a supposedly limited audience aren’t available to exposure.

Along those lines, a commenter in the comment thread for that article had this:

I checked FindMy to see if my wife was lost coming to an appointment at the bank (she was). The banker gasped, “Does she know you’re tracking her?” Her reaction? “It’s a sign of a secure marriage.”
She once missed where I-26 turns and followed the connector straight ahead into downtown Columbia, SC. I was able to guide her through town back to I-26 by a convenient route. I had been tracking her anticipating that very thing.
Very useful app, but one has to be careful with it.

Leaving aside the Banker’s intrusion into a family matter having nothing to do with the family business being conducted, I had this reaction:

Before location apps were available, my wife had a similar missed-turn-now-lost experience trying to get to a location in a large city in Texas hours away from the large city in Texas in which we live, and where I still was.
Her solution? She exercised the telephone app that happened be on her smartphone and called me. I brought up the map function on my laptop, and from her description of the landmarks she was seeing, I quickly located her and then talked her back onto her route. She finished her trip with no further trouble.

Telephone apps. What will Big Tech think of next?

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