Alissa Portillo

Opinions Editor

You are being tracked yet again. 

I do not mean you are being tracked by a person, but rather a screen you use every day. That screen is used to communicate with and open apps; like Instagram, Uber, and Tik Tok. If you do not have a guess yet–it is your cellphone. 

It is no surprise knowing that we give up part of our privacy when we download apps on our cell phones, create accounts, and agree to the terms that we so mindlessly skim through. For instance, when signing up for an app like Instagram and agreeing to its Meta Privacy Policy, which Instagram explains on its website: “[i]n the Privacy Policy, we explain how we collect, use, share, retain and transfer information.” Some prime examples of information Meta collects are your messages, photos and videos, purchases, content you create, like, and post, your followers and friends, the different devices used with the app, and more that can keep this list going. However, a crucial part of the information that Meta collects under Instagram is location. 

When do you post your exact location on apps like Instagram? Your location may be displayed accurately when you post specific restaurants, clubs, parks, and locations you are at on your stories. On your Instagram feed, you may post images of when you were on vacation in, say, Las Vegas or Mexico, which are included in the optional location feature that comes with putting together your post. We are continuously sharing our location on Instagram in these ways as a result of when we accept turning on Location Services on our device setting.  

Now, it is important to note that when we include much of our location information, Meta, through Instagram, collects information on location as well. However, even if you do not post your location, Instagram oddly still manages to collect it. It was stated on Instagram, “[w]e use location-related information that you allow us to receive if you turn on the Location Services device setting. This includes things like your GPS location and, depending on the operating system you’re using, other device signals. We also receive and use some location-related information even if Location Services are turned off.” A key word in this statement is  ‘you allow’, meaning that you have the option of turning off your Location Services, yet, contradicting this is understanding that Meta continues to receive some of your location information is still alarming. 

To go even further, Apple’s new Precise Location feature is making its rounds on social media platforms. Precise Location is a Location Services feature for your Apple cell phones and apps. According to Life Hacker, “Precise Location…is exactly what it sounds like—it’s a setting that lets an app see your specific location, so it knows exactly where you are.” Although some apps, like Apple’s Maps, Google Maps, and Uber need your precise location to provide better quality GPS directions. The question now arises as to why other social media apps have this feature automatically turned on. BBC News mentions that “[t]he setting is automatically enabled for users on apps given permission to access their location.” This means that Apple has already done this for apps if a user has previously granted the app their Location Services. Apple has enabled an invasion of privacy without further consent of its user, which is now a controversial topic on social media platforms. 

Claims of this newly enabled feature on Instagram have since been brought to the feeds of many, including myself. Statements by BBC News included, “[s]ome of the viral posts said that due to a new iOS or Instagram update, people can find your exact location when sharing your location on posts or Stories. They also said if users were to post a general location of a city, people would still be able to see exactly where you are as a pin on a map. They went on to say this feature is being used by criminals to target people, particularly influencers, online.” However, Instagram’s PR Team tweeted a response to these statements and claimed they were false by stating, “[t]o be clear, we don’t share your location with others. Similar to other social media companies, we use precise location for things like location tags and maps features.” These tags and map features are what was stated earlier in regards to posting your precise location at restaurants, clubs, and so on. 

In all, the Precise Location feature is not granting access to others to find your exact location on social media platforms, primarily on Instagram. It is no surprise that users fall prey to false advertisements on Instagram and repost them without gathering more information it. The Washington Post stated, “[a]ccording to a new study by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute, 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked: In other words, most people appear to retweet news without ever reading it.” Similarly, the posts regarding the Precise Location feature that made headlines on social media may be similar to the idea that users share a post without fully reading, understanding, or doing more research on. 

However, it is still alarming to know that Location Services can play a major role in your invasion of privacy without much knowledge. Although Instagram and Apple explain the purposes of these services as stated earlier, it may still be dissatisfying to have these features turned on. With that, should users feel unsafe or uncomfortable with the amount of privacy that is accessed by different apps you can turn off Precise Location or Location Services overall in Apple Settings. MacWorld website describes the process to disable these location services and Precise Location, “[y]ou can toggle precision at any time for any app via Settings > Privacy > Location Services. Look for the app and tap its entry in the list; on the next screen you can switch Precise Location on or off.” 

We may never truly know how our data and location services are consumed and shared via Apple and multiple apps we use, but we can tackle our understanding of these features and choose whether to provide them with much more access or very little. The option is ours.


Featured photo courtesy of Adapptor

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