Facebook is stalking you. So is Google. They seem innocent and friendly, like all they want to do is help you find long-lost friends, share your favorite Drake memes, and figure out exactly how much alcohol is in a can of Bud Light (answer: not much). They’re not like that clingy ex who texts you really late at night about all the good times you had.
But make no mistake: they’re silently creeping on you, tracking your movements like some private investigator hired by that clingy ex.
What exactly am I talking about? Here’s the deal: unless you explicitly forbid Google and Facebook from tracking your location, they will. Every time you use the Facebook app, they’re noting your precise location and storing that information for future use.
So even when you lay down the law and tell them not to track your location, they still can and probably will.
This sounds at least somewhat freaky, right? Am I just being one of those weird internet alarmists who think you should wear tin foil on your head and go completely off the grid? Definitely not. I’m a big fan of the internet and think Google and Facebook can be useful tools.
But I also value my privacy and don’t want Facebook, Google, or any other companies continually tracking where I am.
So what’s the solution?
If you regularly use a VPN, you can keep Facebook and Google out of your business while still benefiting from what they offer.
Let me break it down for you.
How They Track You…Even When You Tell Them Not To
It’s easy to assume that if you turn location services off on your computer and phone, your location can’t be tracked.
That’s not true.
For example, Google can look at your IP address (the unique number assigned to your computer’s or phone’s data connection) and determine which city you’re in. Additionally, they record every search you do, and if you’re searching for a local business, they can match that to your IP address and get a pretty good idea of exactly where you are.
Facebook is continually implementing and improving their facial recognition capabilities. Let’s say you and a friend are grabbing drinks together and he snaps a photo of both of you. Then he shares it with all his Facebook BFFs.
There’s an excellent chance Facebook will automatically recognize your beautiful face and realize you’re with your friend. If your friend allows Facebook to track his location, then they immediately know your location as well.
These are the most straightforward, most basic examples. Also, given both Facebook and Google’s reputation for keeping most of what they do under wraps, it highly likely that they have hundreds of other ways to figure out where you are.
The point is that even if you’re not using location services on your phone and computer, there’s an excellent chance they can figure out your location based on your activity.
Developer Dylan Curran decided to download all his data from Google and was somewhat frightened by what he discovered:
Starting to get the picture? Google, Facebook, and many other companies will try to track and store as much information as possible.
What’s The Big Deal?
Why does all this matter so much? Is it that big of a deal if Facebook knows your location?
First, let me say that we don’t even know all the implications. However, if the 2016 U.S. presidential elections show us anything, it’s that our private information can be used for very nefarious purposes. So with sophisticated cyber crimes on the rise, it’s increasingly clear that privacy and security matter now more than ever.
But beyond that, there are some obvious ways that Facebook uses your location to their advantage.
They allow advertisers to target you based on your location specifically. For example, if they know that you’re at a movie theater, that theater can show Facebook ads to you as you scroll through your newsfeed while you wait to buy tickets. In addition to this just being creepy, if you click on one of the ads, the theater can then use what’s called “retargeting” to continually show you ads, even when you’re not at the theater.
Perhaps of even more significant concern, political parties can potentially target you with ads by your street address. So if they have a mailing list with your address on it, they can start showing you all sorts of political ads on Facebook. So while Facebook is taking steps to restrict political ads, it’s not clear precisely what this will look like in the future.
The point is merely this: Facebook and Google already know a lot about you based on your activity, and when they combine that with your location, there’s the potential for bad things to happen.
Using A VPN To Disguise Your Location
The only way to keep Facebook and Google out of your business is to stop using them altogether. However, you can confuse them by constantly disguising your location. How can you do this?
By using a VPN.
Without getting too nerdy and technical, it works like this. A VPN uses an encrypted connection to connect you to a server in a completely different location. So even though you may be in Dallas, you can use a VPN to connect to a server in Atlanta or Zurich or Manchester.
When Facebook or Google sees your IP address, they automatically assume that’s where you’re physically located. Suddenly, it’s much harder for them to track your location. Not to mention the added bonus that all your data is entirely secure since it’s being transmitted over an encrypted connection.
Your privacy is important. There are lots of shady people out there who want to use your personal information for their benefit. And this isn’t going away anytime soon.
The first step in protecting yourself is to regularly use a VPN, even for things as simple as surfing the web.
Plus, isn’t it just kind of fun to mess with Facebook and Google? Right now they think I’m hanging out in Romania.
But I’m actually…you didn’t think I was going to tell you, right?