Your location location location means money money money for trackers
It's no surprise that Google is tracking what people do and where they go. What is surprising is that other people are surprised to learn this fact. In a November 6, 2017, post on Medium, futurist Michael K. Spencer calls the Google Maps Timeline feature "sneaky." Spencer is shocked! shocked! to learn that Google actually makes money from tracking people's location.
Perhaps the futurist has been so focused on what's to come that he has missed the billions of dollars Google has raked in over the past 15 years by selling the information the company collects about all of us. When I follow the link to view my timeline, I get a generic world map and the message that I have disabled location history. Enabling the feature adds capabilities to Google Maps, Google Now, and other location-based services.
If your location is being recorded and you'd like to prevent Google from keeping a record of your whereabouts, sign into your Google Maps account, choose the menu icon in the top-left corner, and select Your Timeline. The bottom-left corner shows "Location History is on." You can pause it by choosing the Pause Location History button, and then clicking Pause.
This doesn't delete your record of previous locations. To do that, select the gear icon on the right side of the window, and click Delete all Location History. PCMag's Chandra Steele explains how to turn off Google location tracking on Android devices and iOS devices.
Apps that exist only to monetize your location
What really troubles me is the practice of many applications to capitalize on tracking your location. In fact, as Kate Kaye writes in an October 6, 2016, article on AdAge, some apps exist only to collect information about where you go -- any attempts at usefulness are simply a ruse. The app developers take advantage of the tendency of people to say yes reflexively to the program's prompt to allow it to track their location.
As Kaye reports, many nefarious developers treat the initial permission as "a blanket opt-in for a wild range of data uses down the road." Consumers have no idea what information the company is collecting from their phones, nor any knowledge of who the collector is sharing the information with.
Cult of Mac's Killian Bell describes iOS 11's setting that limits an app to tracking your location only when the program is being used. Android Pit's Brittany McGhee explains how to keep Android apps from accessing your location. You can also turn off all location tracking in Android, and prevent Android from appending your location to the photos you take.
While your mind is on privacy and security, why not run through the other options in iOS for blocking trackers and battening down the hatches, as presented by Wired's Brian Barrett in a November 7, 2017, article, or John Knight's instructions for doing the same on Android devices in his November 10, 2017, post on Gadget Hacks.
Willingness to share goes down as awareness of surveillance goes up
Something else that isn't surprising: The more people know about online threats, the less likely they are to share their opinions or details of their personal life. Princeton research fellow Jonathon W. Penney conducted a study recently that found internet users become more cautious and otherwise modify their behavior when they learn about government surveillance.
The internet users surveyed were presented with hypothetical scenarios, such as a law being enacted that criminalizes some forms of online speech, or a consumer receiving a "legal threat" for something they posted. In a July 7, 2017, article on Slate, Penney writes that 62 percent of the people surveyed were less likely to speak or write about certain topics online, and 81 percent are "more cautious or careful" about expressing themselves in the internet.
Penney's research indicates that young people and women are the two groups most likely to self-censor as a result of government surveillance. Sadly, these were the people who are least likely to take steps to defend themselves against "a personal legal threat they believed was wrong," according to Penney. In other words, online surveillance has a chilling effect on free speech "in subtle and invidious ways."
Stressed about the future? Good!
If you think the United States has reached the lowest point in its history, you're not alone. According to the results of a recent poll conducted by the American Psychology Association (pdf), 59 percent of Americans believe our country has never been worse. The survey found that more people are concerned about the future of the U.S. (63 percent) than are worried about the two perennial stress-inducing standards: money (62 percent) and work (61 percent).
At least one pundit sees our fears for the future as a good thing. Sarah van Gelder writes in a November 12, 2017, article on Yes! Magazine that we may have reached a turning point as more people realize "[t]he legitimacy of this system is eroding." Gelder points out that apartheid in South Africa and the totalitarian empire of the USSR "collapsed quickly, but only after years of work." Fixating on the "misdeeds of the powerful" does nothing but distract us from "the work of reimagining the world we want, and creating it."
Gelder recommends that we respond to our increasing worries about the future by getting to work at the neighborhood level, helping to make change for the better in ways that we can witness first hand. If we work to make our communities "more just and ecologically sustainable and maybe even more filled with compassion," we will have created the foundation for bulding "a better country and a better world, rooted in authentic relationships where we live."
Looking for accuracy and fairness in media? Think small
Another article published by Yes! Magazine on November 12, 2017, and written by Jo Ellen Green Kaiser recommends that you give the big-name media outlets a break. It's no secret that people's trust in "corporate news" has plummeted in recent years. Kaiser cites a study published on November 10, 2017, in Science Magazine that found "even small independent news outlets can have a dramatic effect on the content of national conversation."
Kaiser has an interest in promoting small, independent media -- she serves as executive director of the Media Consortium nonprofit network of 80 independent news outlets. Members of the consortium have a "median outlet size" of 50,000 subscribers. While these publications lack to reach of CNN or the New York Times, their readers are more engaged in the subjects they cover, and more likely to share what they read on social media.
As trust in Big News and social networks declines, faith in the accuracy and accountability of small news outlets is on the upswing. Just as with the task of rebuilding our world, the rehabilitation of the news media begins at the local, independent level. Kaiser writes that people "hunger for stories that impact their everyday lives," and they find this information on "outlets they trust."
I trust you'lll continue to rely on the Weekly for at least a bit of the information you need to tame the technology in your life. You'll have to wait two weeks for the next installation, however, because I'm giving myself a week off for the upcoming holiday. Allow me to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving a tad early!