Location services on smartphones endanger public privacy


The US intelligence agency, the NSA, warns in a special report published last night (Tuesday) that location services on smartphones pose a huge risk to privacy. The agency focuses primarily on U.S. security forces and intelligence agencies, but its findings can apply to anyone whose privacy is important to them. According to the authors of the report, mobile devices share users’ location information as part of their operating concept and this cannot really be completely avoided.

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The findings of the aforementioned report are not entirely new to anyone who has followed the privacy scandals over the past ten years. However, this is the first time that the NSA, a well-known privacy breaker through its infamous Echelon program, has announced that this is a problem that cannot be tackled and eliminated completely. Accordingly, it recommends that any U.S. field or military agent take this danger into account depending on the activity in which he or she is taking part.

Location tracking Photo: Shatterstock

According to the agency, from the moment a mobile device is turned on, it shares the location. In some cases it also continues to share even if there is no cellular reception or location in front of satellite service. Modern smartphones can also detect the location of users through a connection to wireless internet networks or even to Bluetooth devices. Quite a few buildings or malls are networked with such devices that are designed to provide follow-up tracking, whether to tailor advertisements to them, generate traffic statistics or to provide additional services such as internal navigation in malls or campuses of companies.

It is further explained that it is possible to access the location information without the cooperation of the provider. Cellular relay stations can be purchased commercially and malicious entities can use them to deceive the cellular devices and gain access to the information transmitted to the legitimate cellular antennas. Among other things, the information can include location, device ID, phone number, IP addresses and other similar items whose collection reveals a lot of information about smartphone owners.

They also explain that it is not just about smartphones, computers or tablets. Even Internet gadgets or smart watches can be a danger. The agency adds more warnings about smart home products such as light bulbs, appliances, thermostats and of course smart cars. At the same time, they warn against social media applications and services – but there is no special innovation here – since the agency’s severe warning reinforces the findings as well as the danger that exists in them. It is further explained that applications tend to ask for much more permissions than they should and it is advisable to minimize their granting.

The NSA safety recommendations include: turning off device location services, turning off Bluetooth radio transmitters, WiFi, NFC when not in use, and using flight mode as much as possible. Use of the most stringent privacy settings given in all installed applications, restricting the use of navigation, fitness, mapping, compass, shopping and restaurant applications; It is also recommended to restrict or completely cancel the personal advertising profile – which contains information collected by Google or Facebook – and is used to match advertisements but also identifies a location even without activating the device’s services.

Smartphones Smartphones Photo: Shatterstock

In addition it is recommended to reset it every few weeks to avoid using historical information. They also refer to the device finding services on Android and iPhone, which also broadcast the user’s location frequently, and recommend that you avoid using them, of course, if you only want to limit location sharing. As mentioned, the NSA is an expert in exploiting technology for its own needs, so if it warns, it is probably worth listening to it.


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