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Issue #680a – Special to ION Magazine: August, 2020

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One thing everybody should be concerned about these days is privacy.  I don’t mean that in the context of closing your drapes, or making sure people don’t overhear your conversations in public, but rather information protection.  There are a whole host of organizations and business to whom your personal information is digital gold, and they go to great lengths to obtain it.  Conventional wisdom says that they should obtain your permission first, but that’s not always the case.

Take your cell phone for instance.  If you’re like me, you’ve been caught off guard by your phone telling you stuff like “25 minutes to get to work. Traffic is light.”  How does the phone even know I’m going to work?  Well, all smartphones have the Global Positioning System (GPS) built-in, though it’s usually called something a little more user-friendly, like Location Services.  Your phone uses this feature to determine where it is.  It also knows when it is taking these readings by using its built-in clock/calendar.  By taking periodic readings over time, your phone actually watches where you go and when, and by extrapolating patterns, it can tell with surprising accuracy where you are going at any given time on any given day.

Don’t believe me? Well for those of you who own an iPhone, do the following.  Go to Settings, and select “Privacy” then “Location Services.”  Scroll all the way down to the bottom, and open “System Services.”  At the bottom of the first grouping, you’ll find something called “Significant Locations” which you will need a PIN, Touch ID, or a face scan to access.  Once you’re in you will see a list of places you’ve visited over time.  You can even click on them and see them marked on a map.    Now, Apple claims that these data are “end-to-end encrypted and cannot be read by Apple.”  Maybe so, but how many times have you seen a cell phone in the news because the FBI or some other law enforcement agency wants to get into it and see exactly what you’re looking at right now?  Yes, it can be done, and it is done with increasing frequency.

Of course, you probably aren’t trying to hide a nefarious criminal history, but I think it’s important that you be aware of the information your phone is collecting on you.  And if this isn’t enough for you, back up to the first page of Settings and scroll all the way to the top, so the “Search” box is visible.  In that box, enter “COVID.” and perform a search.  Did you know the capability to track COVID-19 exposure had been added to your phone?  Neither did I.  To learn more about this feature, visit TinyURL.com/IGTM-0680a.

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