Why Do Mobile Apps Ask to Use My Location?

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Your smartphone contains a wealth of interesting features, not the least of which is its ability to detect your location. It does this with GPS signals and other location data. When you launch an app, it may ask permission to use your phone’s location. Apps that take advantage of location data provide information that is more pertinent to the user, adding to the phone’s utility and convenience.

Nearby Businesses

  • Even if you live in the same place for years, you may not know all the businesses within a few miles. Smartphone apps combine your current location with maps and other data to help you locate goods and services you need. If you’re traveling or new to a place, finding nearby stores, banks and restaurants is handy. Combined with user ratings, location information allows apps such as Yelp show you local businesses that customers recommend. GasBuddy combines location data and gas prices to save a few dollars when your fuel gauge nears empty.

Navigation

  • With smartphone navigation apps, you find the best travel route to a destination. Using location tracking, you set the phone’s current location as your default starting place so you need enter only the destination’s address. Because the phone updates your current location in real time, you can follow your progress on the phone’s map, noting cross streets and landmarks along the way. You can also anticipate turns, toll booths and other points on the road.

Personal Tracking

  • The Glympse app temporarily shares your location with others. For example, if you are traveling to visit a friend, you can show her you are en route. The app sends her an email or text message containing a Web link. When she clicks the link, it opens a Web page showing a real-time map with your current location and speed. Upon your arrival or at a predetermined time, the link expires, so your whereabouts become private until you choose to share them again. This type of app is handy when traffic delays you on your way to an important meeting. When you send your colleagues a message with your location, they can follow your progress and anticipate your arrival.

Privacy Issues

  • You put an enormous amount of personal information in your smartphone, including personal contacts and appointments as well as bank account numbers and favorite websites. You most likely want your private data to remain completely under your control. Most apps that use your location data do so in a benign way and do not transmit your location to anyone. In 2010, technicians discovered a previously unknown database of locations on iPhones and suspected Apple of using personal information without permission. Apple went on record stating the data does not identify individuals but rather records Wi-Fi hot spots and cell tower locations. Combined with GPS data, this information improves the iPhone’s ability to determine your location. Android-based phones use a similar process. Any time an app prompts you to for your location data, ask yourself if it is necessary. If you suspect the app uses your data in a way that violates your privacy, turn off your phone’s location services.

Managing Location Services

  • If you are not actively using location services on your smartphone, it is best to turn them off to conserve battery power. Open the “Settings” app. On an Android phone, select "Privacy" and tap the check box next to “Use My Location.” On an iPhone, tap “Location Services” and slide the switch control to the off position. With iPhone software, you can selectively enable or disable location services for each app; the Settings app lists them underneath the master location-services switch.

References

  • Photo Credit Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images
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