The ubiquity of smartphones means that those who own one are pretty easy to track.
All modern smartphones have inbuilt GPS accurate to within a few feet.
Even if your GPS is turned off smartphones also peer at Wi-Fi networks in the vicinity – which are mapped to a physical location and can be used to verify location.
Even if your Wi-Fi and your GPS are turned off your phone and its apps can use triangulation of your cell signal to figure out roughly where you are.
And whenever you take a cell phone picture the photo includes a tiny piece of metadata (called EXIF data) that records the location where that photo was taken – along with the type of camera and the date and time.
Even if you’re on your personal computer instead of your phone there are plenty of ways for websites or applications to figure out your location.
All computers have a unique code – called an IP address – that is created whenever they go online – and which can be used to roughly map location.
Even if you mask your IP address there are other ways that you can be tracked.
Digital images of you and your environs may disclose your location.
Google’s program PlaNet uses artificial intelligence to figure out where a particular photo was taken.
PlaNet contains a database of some 90 million geo-tagged online photos – from which it can guess (with reasonable accuracy) where new ones were snapped from – even without any obvious landmark in the background.
As with much modern-day tech that has the capacity to surveil these technologies were not sold to consumers under the auspices of spyware.
Rather the GPS in cell phones and the cameras and microphones in our computers and phones are of great utility for consumers: they enable navigation – on-demand delivery and services and help us keep track of our things and loved ones.
Yet the tradeoff is that we have opened ourselves up to the potential to be surveilled – tracked and monitored 24/7 – by either companies or governments.