“Apps track users once every three minutes, “ Emily Dwoskin reports in The Wall Street Journal. Personally, this was a shocking, and quite alarming statistic considering how many apps I currently have on my phone. To make matters worse, I am the person who readily accepts the message, allowing sites like Google to “find my current location” when I am trying to find a certain store or restaurant, or when I just have no idea where I am driving and need directions fast. Dwoskin’s article covered a recent experiment conducted at Carnegie Mellon University that concluded, “a dozen or so popular Android apps collected device location—GPS coordinates accurate to within 50 meters—an average 6,200 times, or roughly every three minutes, per participant over a two-week study period.”
The ethical issue here is not necessarily the fact that these apps have the ability to track your location, although that alone may be unsettling for some. However, it is instead the fact that these apps are not just tracking your location at a given moment, like one would expect, but are constantly tracking you. This is something that app trackers don’t tell you. This presents a huge safety issue when considering the grave consequences if this tracking information ever got into the hands of the wrong person.
There is definitely room for improvement here. I believe that app providers ought to be more upfront and clear with what “tracking” actually means, as well as offering users more reminders that their information is being tracked and more opportunities to opt out. Usually, the initial op-out message is confusing, not providing much information to users as to what is being asked of them, and after clicking, it becomes almost impossible to figure out how to change privacy settings. App providers should make a greater effort to provide users with enough information to understand what they are actually allowing companies to access, so that people are fully aware of what information they are giving companies.
Part of the responsibility also falls on users to be more conscious in their decision-making. Apps are fun, enticing, and helpful. Yet, in today’s day and age, you are in charge of protecting yourself. Although it may seem like your phone is your lifeline, without proper use and caution, your phone may be what actually gets you into trouble, not out of it.
Are you aware that your apps are tracking your every move? What privacy settings do you have to ensure your information is protected?