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Want security, privacy? Turn off that smartphone, tablet GPS

Ellen Messmer | Aug. 22, 2012
Turn off that GPS function unless really needed.

The "Obama for America" app takes geolocation data to the greater extreme, he points out. The Obama app allows for the presentation of a U.S. map where Democrat-registered voters are displayed as blue flags in the neighborhood where they live. The Obama app encourages supporters to canvas neighbors to get them to vote, says Glenn. He says he finds it all a "little creepy."

"They want you to go to the neighbors, it's how to volunteer for the campaign," Glenn surmises. The nation's political-party voter registration information is readily available to political campaigns and his long been widely used for targeted political advertising via telephone calls and regular mail asking for donations, for example. But even though personal names aren't being displayed on the Obama for America app map, Glenn says he finds it disconcerting to see GPS data used in a modern political campaign in this way on user smartphones and tablets.

Like Brill, Glenn also is inclined to encourage users to say no to GPS data collection on their devices. He notes it's fairly standard for apps to ask permission to collect it, and people routinely say yes, perhaps not knowing what they're really agreeing to with GPS. There is definitely a privacy issue related to taking a photo, publishing it online with the geotagging data embedded in it, he adds.

"It also boils down to being careful what you download," he concludes.


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