Have you ever noticed that on crime shows, the good guys often catch criminals by locating their cell phones? Well, unlike instant DNA test results, this plot device is true: people actually can track you by your cell phone. Some organizations also keep track of where you’ve been; for example, Google uses location history to figure out where your work and home are located. Also, police in many cities use a cell phone tracking system called a stingray to locate suspected criminals and terrorists, and since your cell phone is always seeking wireless connections, it could connect to a stingray device without you knowing it.
So when a notification pops up on your phone asking to use your location, should you worry about privacy? Are criminals likely to track you in order to scam you or break into your house when you’re gone? Are the Feds keeping tabs on you? Probably not.
On the whole, location services are very helpful. Without them you wouldn’t have access to driving directions or instant restaurant recommendations or mobile coupons for those same local eateries. And criminal misuse is pretty unlikely because criminals have way easier ways to make money.
Tracking an individual person is hard, whereas hacking computers to get personal information is pretty easy and has a big payoff. Even if they were to hack a business like Google and get your location history, they would likely get lots of other personal information that they could sell for a lot more money than how many times a week you stop at your favorite coffee shop. And if you’re worried about law enforcement, they have way bigger things to worry about than tracking you down for a parking ticket.
All that said, if you do feel uncomfortable about location services, you can turn them off. Here are directions for turning off both location services and location history for Android and iOS devices. It’s always good to be in control of your personal information, and, at the very least, turning off location services can save some charge on your battery.