It's Getting Cheaper and Easier for People to Track Your Location

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The internet is an amazing place where you can learn just about anything, including commonly mispronounced food names and how to cut onions without crying. But just as the internet keeps advancing, so too do people who want to use it for shady purposes. Though there's no need to be afraid of the internet, there are ways you can protect yourself now that it's become easier to keep tabs on other people's whereabouts.

Researchers at the University of Washington recently found that it only costs roughly $1,000 to buy mobile ads in order to track someone's location. How? Basically, someone buys an ad that is sent to your phone whenever you go to a specific geographic location — just like some stores' apps do to serve you special coupons and deals when you're physically near the store. Once that ad has been served (aka sent to your phone), the person who purchased the ads will know within 10 minutes of your arrival that you were at the target location. And if someone buys enough ads that target specific locations, they could learn your schedule.

But who would want to track you, right? A vengeful ex, a suspicious spouse, or even a boss looking to make sure his or her employees aren't goofing off on the job might decide that $1,000-figure is a good deal to learn the truth.

Researcher Paul Vines and his team also found that people who purchase ads can also see what kinds of apps the person they're targeting uses. That may sound harmless, but these apps can reveal lots of things about you, including health information, marital status, religious affiliations, political leanings, and other interests.

How to Prevent People From Tracking Your Location and App Useage

People who are looking to track others need to first learn a person's mobile advertising ID (MAID), which is a number specific to your phone. Your MAID could be identified if you use an unsecured Wi-Fi network or someone hacks into your Wi-Fi router.

The University of Washington team found that people can get as specific as serving ads to certain MAIDs when the phone's owner opens an app in a particular area. Within four minutes, the person who purchased the ads can track someone's location to within 8 meters (about 25 feet) of where they actually are.

So how can you protect yourself? The team recommends resetting your MAID regularly; this is an option on most smartphones. Disabling location tracking within specific apps is another way to make it harder for people to find you.

How to Reset Your MAID

Resetting a MAID on an iPhone is pretty simple. First, go to Settings and scroll down until you see Prviacy.

(Photo Credit: Courtesy of Melanie Aman)

Tap Privacy and scroll down to the bottom where you'll see the Advertising option.

(Photo Credit: Courtesy of Melanie Aman)

Tap Advertising and you'll see the Reset Advertising Identifier option. Click that to reset your MAID.

(Photo Credit: Courtesy of Melanie Aman)

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