Ethan Roderick

Location Data is the accumulation of information regarding the whereabouts of an individual’s, either in the past or present, by a service, organization, or network (Guide to Privacy). This data encompasses the knowledge of an individual’s longitude, latitude, altitude, and direction of movement. In order to keep records of when an individual is in a specific place, an automatically updating and detailed time log is created by the user’s habits. The knowledge of possibly being monitored can lead people to be, “constantly apprehensive and inhibited due to the constant presence of an unseen audience” (Sarpong and Rees, 2014, p. 217). The thought of always being tracked out of convenience, whether to find the nearest restaurant or for one’s safety, has been subconsciously pushed to the back of user’s minds as they don’t make the connection between constant surveillance.

On smartphones, location data is developed and processed by one’s phone carrier. However, these carrier’s use contracts to distribute or sell this data to third-party organizations as well as bureaucratic organizations (Whitwam, 2018). The Information Commissioner’s Office defines this location data as, “any data processed in an electronic communications network or by an electronic communications service indicating the geographical position of the terminal equipment of a user of a public electronic communications service” (Guide to Privacy). The phrase “any data” used here shows how even mundane and seemingly insignificant data, like taking a picture with a phone while having location services turned on, can be used for location pinpointing.

As more and more online functions and phone applications require location settings to be turned on, users begin to lose privacy. Whenever a person has his or her phone, their physical location is known and transmitted. Data leaks by the Strava app is an example the of the dangers of location services. Strava, which allows for detailed reports of running distances, shared aggregated user data on a worldwide public heat signature map. This map then revealed the locations of many secret military bases from runners using the apps on said bases. This was accomplished as, “the user data was released in November as a ‘2017 heatmap,’ showing over 1 billion activities, including 13 trillion GPS datapoints” (Novak, 2018, para. 2). Therefore, as military men and women used this app and carried their phones during runs around their bases, their location data was able to be seen by users on the app which ultimately publicized their secret location.


Guide to privacy and electronic communications regulations. (n.d.). Information Commissioners Office. Retrieved from https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-pecr/communications-networks-and-services/location-data/

Novak, M. (2018, January 29). Fitness app’s ‘anonymized’ data dump accidentally reveals military bases around the world. Gizmodo. Retrieved from https://gizmodo.com/fitness-apps-anonymized-data-dump-accidentally-reveals-1822506098

Sarpong, S., & Rees, D. (2014). Assessing the effects of ‘big brother’ in a workplace: The case of WAST. European Management Journal, 32(2), 216-222. doi:10.1016/j.emj.2013.06.008

Whitwam, R. (2018, May 15). Your cell carrier is selling your location data. Extreme Tech. Retrieved from https://www.extremetech.com/mobile/269259-your-cell-carrier-selling-your-location-data


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Key Concepts in Surveillance Studies Copyright © 2019 by Ethan Roderick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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