News 5 Investigates

May 12, 2014 10:57 PM by Eric Ross

News 5 Investigates: The pros and cons of smartphone apps tracking you

Do you know how many apps on you your smartphone are tracking you?

Believe it or not, most know your exact location and can access private information on your phone. This technology began advancing around 2008 when Android and iPhone's gained popularity among consumers.

"These phones have hardware in it that tracks your location through GPS data or WiFi data," security consultant Gerrit Padgham said. "The biggest disadvantage is related to privacy and whether you want people to know your behaviors or personal information about you."

The following data is collected through the majority of apps downloaded:
-Photos
-Contact list
-Passwords
-GPS Location

"People should ask themselves where that data is getting sent to and who has access to it," Padgham said.

All apps require your "permission" before downloading. However, most admit they never read the fine print. Also, read the privacy disclaimer associated with the app.

The privacy of apps came into the spotlight most recently with the controversy surrounding Snapchat. Pictures sent through this particular app are supposed to disappear and be deleted permanently after a few seconds. In 2013, the entire world learned the hard way that all those pictures were not deleted. Approximately 4.6 million users had their pictures leaked. With one of the largest cell phone app security breaches still under scrutiny, many of you may be wondering about the benefits of apps keeping track of you and your personal information.

"It can create targeted advertising so you see ads that interest you," Padgham explained.

Ever notice stores you like on the sidebar of web sites like facebook? When you visit a website or launch a store's application, it collects certain data and depending upon privacy disclaimers, can share that information with other sites and merchants.

Another benefit of having a smartphone is location services when you need emergency help.

"When we get a 9-1-1 call from a cell phone, it's tracked through either a satellite in the sky or a physical GPS chip in your phone," Ben Bills with El Paso-Teller County 9-1-1 said.

Most newer smartphones have GPS tracking chips embedded in them, and can provide dispatchers latitude and longitude coordinates of where you are with pinpoint precision.

"It's accurate to about the size of a football field," Bills said.

Unlike apps that continuously collect data from your smartphone, collecting GPS data is a little bit different and isn't always detectable depending upon where you are.

"Our terrain with the mountains is a disadvantage," Bill said. "It's also a disadvantage when you're in a basement or in a big building like a hospital."

It's recommended you keep your GPS location services turned on for emergency situations. If you don't want certain apps tracking your every move, you can turn off location services on an app-by-app basis.

If you have an iPhone, go into settings>privacy>location services.
There, you can turn off GPS tracking for apps you don't want following you.

We walk you through the process here:

If you have an Android device, open up the individual app and then go into settings to disable GPS tracking.

We walk you through the process here:

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