Here Is How Easy It Was to Track Location of 12 Million Smartphone Users via Leaked Data

Location heatmap

A famous US publication, The New York Times, has got its hands on a file that contains precise location data of over 12 million smartphones that have been tracked over several months in 2016 and 2017 throughout many cities including Washington, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. According to the publication, the data was originated from a location data company, rather than a government agency, telecom brand, or a tech giant. However, the individual leaking the information has asked to remain anonymous owing to security concerns.

We all know that many apps in our smartphones track our locations. And let’s be honest, most of us are aware that some of those apps might be selling the data to maybe marketing companies, organizations, or other individuals. The irony is we don’t take the issue all that seriously thinking that it might not affect our lives. Well, the report from The New York Times shows how serious the consequences could be if the location data falls into wrong hands.

According to the publication, it was able to easily pinpoint an individual owning the smartphone to precise locations, such as their home, office, the restaurant where they usually have their food, the pubs they visit, the hospital they consult to, and so on, using the leaked location file. When you connect all these locations, you can track the individual’s daily routine. While this is a major privacy breach for ordinary people, imagine how serious can it turn out to be for survivors of abuse.

A smartphone is a major tool for companies for tracking the location of an individual. And currently, most smartphones either run Google’s Android OS or Apple’s iOS platform. Fortunately, both tech giants have implemented several options in their mobile platforms to limit the location data used by third-party applications. However, the report from The New York Times shows that current restrictions aren’t enough to secure a user’s privacy.

Our Take

Data leaks usually happen through third-party applications. Therefore, we recommend that you block location access to as many third-party applications as you can. It is as simple as going to Settings > Privacy > Location Services and selecting the desired app, then opting ‘Never‘ in location sharing. You can also read our dedicated article on blocking locations access to apps.

[Source: The New York Times]