Scott Hanselman

It's 2012 and your kids have an iPhone - Do you know where they are? I do.

February 11, 2012 Comment on this post [30] Posted in Mobile | Musings
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Google Map Pin tells me your locationThe strangest thing just happened. I'm sitting here in a hotel in New Zealand and my phone pops up an alert from a push-to-talk voice chat application I recently installed called Voxer. It's a voicemail from a tween (a child perhaps not quite 13 - in-between) teasing me about my name. "Scott Hanselman - Who would name their kid Scott HanselAndGretal man. *giggle*" Harmless stuff, of course, but weird and random. No idea who this is.

The name wasn't familiar but there was a little icon next to the voicemail in the Voxer app. Perhaps you've seen it before. It was a little red pin.

I clicked, and the young person's exact location popped up. They were sitting in a public library, likely after school. Because the application is an iPhone app and tied into their identity, the app shows their full name, not an alias. Literally a light 20 seconds (not minutes, mind you) of Googling and I find their Google Plus profile and Twitter. Google Plus promotes even more "information leakage" with it's "Places Lived" feature. This showed the last three cities the young person lived in. One of them was Portland. Since I live in Portland that seemed too coincidental. I searched for people I know on Facebook with the same last name who lived in Portland. Turns out I'm Facebook-friends with this young person's dad, although both have long since moved out of town. I messaged him and he was appreciative, relieved it was me and not a stranger, and is dealing with his child.

What's the moral here friends? Let me break it down for you:

  • More apps leak your exact location than you realize.

    • These apps often ask you once, and then broadcast your location multiple times a day. I'm looking at you Facebook, Twitter, GroupMe, Voxer and Foursquare. I doubt anyone, including this young person, would ever guess that this little voice chat program would give up his address. If adults don't noticed this stuff, how is a teenager (or younger) supposed to?
    • Folks at Voxer - You need to make location services OFF by default.
  • Your kids have no idea. Yet.

    • They may be social this and savvy that, but honestly, they don't realize how much info they are leaking. Take a moment today and talk to them about it.

    • You've had the Drugs Talk, the Sex Talk, now have the Location Services Talk.

    • You can turn off Location Services on a per apps basis, and you can also turn on Restrictions on your phone so that only some apps (Find my Friends, for example) can access the GPS while others (Twitter, Voxer, etc) can't.

  • Have a Location Services policy for your family

    • As stupid as teens often are, they are smart when armed with information. Explain the situation, show them the control they have and apply your family policy.

Hope this helps your kids. Spread the word.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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February 11, 2012 9:40
Thank you for writing about this topic.
When my oldest was born I posted pictures to my Flickr account. A friend emailed to say "We had our first baby at that hospital, too." Funny, I never told him where the photos were taken. Flickr put the location of the hospital nursery on a little map next to the photos. Double you, tee, eff?
February 11, 2012 10:33
I'm sorry, all I'm going to take away from this article is: Scott HanselAndGretal man.
February 11, 2012 11:30
Being a teenager as well, I find it interesting how many kids just sign up for twitter and Facebook and then post by the minute what they're doing. Then when you ask them how their soccer practice or whatever was, they freak. Just goes to show how little they pay attention to the info they give away.
February 11, 2012 12:24
This feature is built into iOS as of iOS 5 with "Find my Friends". It doesn't require an app to be open and you can even lock it on so that the only way to disable it is to wipe and reload the OS.
February 11, 2012 12:49
You could also sit down with your kids and have a good talk about the amazing possibilities to come out of this - instead of TEACHING and TELLING them how to turn it off. You might even learn something from them?

Tearing down the borders (in an informed way, yes) between the physical and the digital world is a good thing, IMHO. As is listening to your kids;)
February 11, 2012 16:26
The app thing is just the thing of the moment since the mobile revolution is still in full swing and no one really knows what they are doing with a cell phone.

The issue you are raising is a lot more general. I remember once, it had to be 10 years ago or more, I was chatting with a girl on IRC and I noticed her id was something related to an US university. I altavista'd the university, correlated the verbose university id with a certain area of the building, looked at the public layout of the university and the course curriculum as well as nearby areas and started to leak that information into the conversation. Since the girl knew I was not an US citizen, she started to freak about how much I knew about her. And all I had to work on was an overly descriptive host handle and a few words about the class she had difficulty with.

The location services on the cell phones are just the tip of an iceberg decades deep and just another point of contact between real life and online persona. My advice for this is to create your online identity, one that you have control over, and be as public as you like, as long as it doesn't intersect your identity in offline. It's really difficult, though.
February 11, 2012 16:31
@Chad, it's not Flickr. The Geotag is embedded in the photo. If you upload the tagged photo anywhere, the geotag will upload with it.

If you don't want it to show up, you'll have to disable it on your camera.
February 11, 2012 17:30

Yet another device leaking your location: your camera. Many cameras have GPS devices in them to encode the exact location that a photo was taken into the EXIF data of the photo; this became 100x "worse" when we all started using our phones (with their mandatory GPS devices) as our cameras. Since you left that information in there, Flickr was more than happy to decode and share it with the rest of the world.
February 12, 2012 6:52
"relived it was me and not a stranger, and is dealing with his child."

relived should be relieved
February 12, 2012 7:32
Ummmmm, am I the only one who is wondering why the heck a kid needs an iPhone anyways? Last time I checked a 9.99 prepaid from wally world will let me get in touch w my kids just as well. Pretty simple solution to me.
Other than that, great informative article.
February 12, 2012 7:35
I hear what you're saying. However what you are not getting is that Generation Y doesn't care about privacy. Generation X looks like it's going to be the last generation that cares about this stuff. Once we die off, the next generations will progressively lose more and more of their freedoms and privacy.

So, I guess what you talk about in your post is worth mentioning, but I think it's important to realize that the next generation simply doesn't value privacy and information control the way older generations do.
February 12, 2012 13:26
It strikes me that it's not just teenagers who need to be aware of this issue. When I look around at my friends (middle-aged and older), there's precious few of them who are truly aware of how leaky smartphones are...
February 13, 2012 2:03
I couldn't agree more with you! Soooo many apps now leak your GPS location on internet! I realized it when I was actually looking for an iPhone app to record my location (I'm a runner) but didn't want to have my data available online (I'm always freaked out someone will find my login and password and find out where I am... eek!). So far the only app that will record my route without leaking it online seems to be Last Night. All the others I have found, such as runkeeper, strava cycling, nike+GPS, sportstracker, motionX-GPS, etc will make you create an online account.

As Mr Seder said, this is a trend that will just become more and more common as time goes on... more and more apps will get your instant location and possibly leak it to strangers. What that fathoms for the future is pretty scary!
February 13, 2012 4:09
Being able to Google for someone and getting their Google+ profile is not cool. Profiles shoudln't be public or searchable IMO.
February 13, 2012 11:08
One of my ex-colleague bought an iPhone to her boyfriend, and told us that the first thing she do with that iPhone is to open it's GPS service, so she could check her boyfriend's actual location when she make a call to check.

Good luck her boyfriend don't ever try to lie about working while inside a pub.
February 13, 2012 19:44
Also be aware of others using social services at your home. I was once defending Facebook, over dinner with friends. I said that FB isn't bad, you just need to be aware of the settings. Logging in to show them a specific setting, the very first status I see is '[Baby sitter name] has checked in at [My Address]'.

I was livid, not at the sitter, but at Facebook for allowing that. They should have no right to publish that without my approval. We did have the sitter change the status, and instruct them not to check in with our address as a status. They had no idea how they did it, or it was so 'simple' that it wasn't apparent what they were doing.

February 13, 2012 21:13
tattletale.. :)
February 14, 2012 9:51
@Gary: Agreed. The most complained fact about FB is that as their user, you're somehow "required" to check the settings page periodically to see if there are things you need to opt-out.

You can actually find out a lot of things (unexpected to be revealed) from some early adapters who are not aware of this.
February 14, 2012 13:15
A friend of mine teaches social work at university. His favourite lecture is when he scouts around his students online life and then displays the pictures and comments he finds with the comment, "What if your clients look you up?"
February 15, 2012 1:52
I think it's important to note that education of not only the younger ones, but also the older generation is important. It should be a constant for individuals to closely monitor and proactively think about what information they are sending out there for others to use and/or abuse.

This closely correlates to your post:

Welcome to opensource intelligence gathering.
February 15, 2012 18:57,19753/
February 17, 2012 19:37
Being a teenager as well, I find it interesting how many kids just sign up for twitter and Facebook and then post by the minute what they're doing. Then when you ask them how their soccer practice or whatever was, they freak. Just goes to show how little they pay attention to the info they give away.
April 24, 2012 0:45
I think this problem is not only rampant in youth but adults. Being a twenty-something I've noticed that my parents smart phones are leaking more information than mine, likely because they have no idea what they are doing. My question to you is, when do you think this era of free information will reach a tipping point? It scares me to think that our privacy is becoming less and less, well, private. My friends were even showing me this search engine where you can type in a persons info and it shows their marital status, financial earnings, physical address and even phone number!
September 25, 2012 8:30
I think the larger issue here is that people don't realize the power of information aggregation. People regularly share tiny bits of their life online (including mobile interaction) and most are unaware of how easy it to tie all of those bytes together to get a very accurate digital representation of their real world self. My kids think I'm nuts because I ban social media and publish severely for violations.
September 25, 2012 8:30
ok that should say punish.. :)
September 25, 2012 10:30
Ironically enough, Hansel and Gretel (or more correctly Hänsel und Gretel) is a fairy tale of German origin. I believe Scott has once indicated that his surname and family history is (at least in part) of German origin, too.

So, despite the tween using this to "call Scott names", he's probably very close to the truth that both Scott's surname and the name of the fairy tale are somewhat related!
September 25, 2012 10:36
kudos for having a site that's actually usable in Metro style IE10 snap view!
September 25, 2012 11:33
bzsys - Thanks for noticing I did that! ;)
September 25, 2012 12:53
Hänsel und Gretel where they not famous for sharing their location with a trail of sweets?

September 25, 2012 17:28
"You've had the Drugs Talk, the Sex Talk, now have the Location Services Talk."

Seriously, does anyone still have those "drugs talk, sex talk" nowadays?

I mean, unless those parents want to learn FROM their kids, that is... ;-)

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.