The problem with location-based apps

Smartphones are wonderful devices. Not only do we use them for calling, texting and e-mail, but they have increasingly become our go-to cameras, music players, handheld gaming devices, and a mobile lifeline to everything from our bank accounts to the latest news and weather. And because of their ability to be recognized and tracked by location services, smartphones have become highly reliable navigational aids, replacing many stand-alone GPS devices in passenger cars and other vehicles.

Over the last couple of years, this ability to precisely locate smartphones through GPS systems and cellular and Wi-Fi networks has led to a mushrooming of location-based apps, those small downloadable programs that use a smartphone user’s whereabouts to provide additional information and services.

However, despite the usefulness of navigational apps or restaurant-finding services such as UrbanSpoon and Yelp, location-based apps can present a few areas of concern for smartphone owners.

The first issue to think about is privacy. By definition, location-based apps work by tracking your location. This is perfectly acceptable when you are actively seeking directions or looking for somewhere to have lunch, but perhaps not quite as welcome when you are relaxing at home or visiting your child’s school.

The second item to consider is the ability of some app providers and their partners to build a profile of your mobile use for advertising purposes. Although the tracking of smartphone use for targeted marketing is in its infancy, the ultimate goal is to include mobile use alongside desktop activity in terms of understanding a user’s interests and buying preferences. Utilizing location-based apps and responding to local ads can add considerable detail to that user profile.

The final item to think about with location-based apps is battery drain. Even when they are not in use, many location-based apps are constantly updating GPS information or searching for Wi-Fi access points to more precisely pinpoint the phone’s whereabouts. While less worrisome than the privacy concerns mentioned above, this constant drain on your smartphone’s battery is no less irritating.

One way around these location-based matters is to use your smartphone’s settings to turn off location services when you don’t need them. Most smartphones have a dedicated location feature in the Settings menu, which will allow you to turn off network location services, as well as third-party services for built-in or downloaded apps.

Another way is to delete or uninstall the location-based apps that you don’t use. Again, most smartphone operating systems will allow you to do this through the Settings option. Click on Applications and you will see a list of all the apps you have downloaded. Clicking on each individual app will tell you what permissions you have given, including the ability to track your location.

While there’s no shortage of location-based apps that can offer many major benefits to smartphone owners and their families, it’s important to think about just how and when you use them to maximum benefit and enjoyment all while protecting your privacy.

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