Tom Kerr writing on privacy…

My friend Alice went out for drinks with her crew from work. Someone at the table passed around his smartphone to demonstrate how to use an app to locate friends…like when you want to meet up for coffee or to grab a bite to eat.

“See, I used it to find you guys this evening,” he said. “Those little dots on the map right there are us. That one headed down the street is Jason, who just left.”

Alice thought that was pretty cool. She could use that app to find her grandkids easier when she picked them up at the crowded baseball stadium after a game.

Then she asked, “What’s that other dot?” and pointed to one that was illuminated several blocks away. The bleep on the screen was another co-worker, Sharon, who had left the happy hour gathering 30 minutes earlier.

The dot showed exactly where Sharon lived…which Alice thought was rather invasive.

Then it got downright creepy.

As all the workmates looked on curiously, the dot tracking Jason meandered across the map…and wound up inside Sharon’s house…after midnight. Apparently Jason and Sharon had a secret…but now the cat was out of the bag.

Smartphone tools can be convenient. But there are times when you may not want to disclose your whereabouts…and unless you proactively disable this kind of feature, it may continue monitoring your location in real time.

Social media apps use the same technology.

They may help you expand your circle of friends, and that’s great. But such technology could also reveal your identity to someone you consider a complete stranger.

Let’s say you’re dissatisfied with your job and go for an interview with the head of HR at your company’s competitor. You probably don’t want that interviewer’s name and face to show up conspicuously on your social media feed. The same may be true for anyone who visits a medical specialist or divorce attorney, or attends a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.

There are countless reasons why you may want to keep your business to yourself…and lots of situations where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. But, if you have inadvertently granted GPS tracking permission to companies that provide smartphone apps, your privacy could be in jeopardy.

Maybe you heard about how Uber, the ride-hailing service, was caught tracking the whereabouts of its customers…even after they had been dropped off at their final destinations. In fact, Uber kept tracking former customers, even after they deleted the app.

In order for someone to track your device, you have to agree to share your location….and you also have the power to disable that capability. Many people forget to do so…or are unaware that the device is set to a default mode that enables nonstop tracking.

That’s why it’s a good idea for you to dig around and check the settings on your phone and in your apps. Look under “Privacy Settings” for subheadings with names like “Location Services”. If you don’t want your phone to be tracked, disable those functions.

Even when disabled, some of these features can be temporarily restored for your convenience. In the event that you lose your phone and want to use a built-in app like “Find My iPhone” to help locate it, you should be able to temporarily reactivate the “Location Services” feature from your online account.

Similarly, most phones will automatically perform temporary location tracking if you call 9-1-1 in an emergency…so that first responders can find you.

In the digital age of hyper-connectivity and 24/7 communication of personal data, you still have the right, and the ability, to set your own healthy and comfortable boundaries.

Alice learned a good lesson – one I’m glad she shared with me – that vividly illustrates why none of us should unwittingly forfeit our personal space.

P.S. Discover how you can enjoy a more laidback, authentic, independent way of life in Truth & Plenty. Sign up below to have it delivered – free of charge – to your email inbox.

Image: ©iStock.com/LDProd

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