How did Google know I was here?

Demystifying geolocation technologies

By Mabel Truong

Geolocation is the use of location technologies which allow programs, people and devices to identify and track the whereabouts of others. Geolocation typically operates within a connected electronic device such as smartphones and/or smartwatches. Our eSafety Commissioner project has found that the lack of knowledge of how these things operate has caused young people and parents to raise concerns over their safety when using digital media.

Through our focus groups, young people have expressed that they turn off geolocation as a way to protect themselves online. Some commented that they did not feel the need to share their location and will always select ‘no’ when an app asks for their permission to share their location. However, there were others who noted that sharing their location was only suitable with family and friends to make sure that they are safe. Parents also shared similar views that their children should have their location turned off and the importance of educating their children about sharing their location.

Snapchat was a key app that young people recognised as accessing their location through ‘Snap Map’. Young people were also able to identify that there are multiple occasions where they would be asked for their permission to use their location. Additionally, it is also interesting to hear from parents that many use tracking apps such as Life360 to track their children despite their concerns with location services.  

Overall, there are advantages of using apps that use geolocation, however, it is important to also consider how parents and young people can navigate these apps safely. For example, young people and parents have expressed their concerns about fears of their data being “leaked” or “sold”. This concern can be resolved in the Life360 app as the user can disable the sale of their location data as this is different to sharing their location. These features are usually hidden and up to the user to actively turn this off. This can be done through the ‘privacy & security’ setting by selecting ‘do not sell my personal information’ to turn this off. An example for young people would be the BeReal app, and being cautious of agreeing to share their location as individuals are posting in the moment and therefore, sharing their exact location in real time.