Don’t turn off geolocation. It could save your life.

I’m seeing lots of posts from people waving the privacy fear flag, warning mothers (and women generally) that they might get killed because of the geolocation tag on their phone. “Murderers can find you!” “Your kids will be kidnapped!” “That stalker guy will shoot you dead!”

The story goes something like: ‘Did you know that every post you make to social media from your phone might be defaulted to include the location you took it? Don’t you realise what that might mean? People could kill you! Panic now!’ Then follows a handy step-by-step guide to turning off the geolocation so you can relax knowing that you will not be killed due to your irresponsible (you’re such a bad mother) geolocated pictures of you and the kids skiing at Breckenridge. Phew.

What images do you post online that can identify where you are?

Wait. That might not be the whole story.

Geolocation is not the only identifier of where you are and what you are doing. In fact, far more nuanced and detailed information is gathered through tracking social media content of your behaviors and habits. Tweeting about going to work. Every day. Same time. Facebook pictures of you, your friends. Who and where you’re tagged by friends. If you’re currently on holidays, that picture at Breckenridge you posted to Facebook (perhaps without the geolocation on it) not only carries your location within the content of the image itself, but also what you look like, who you’re with, and what you like to do – oh and the caption you put on it “Having a blast at Breckenridge” is also kind of a giveaway. Far more accessible for the standard neighborhood killer than going to the meta data of any post is going to provide.

Murderers and kidnappers are not really going to need to use geolocated social media posts in order to find you. But you know who might actually need to?

Emergency services personnel. Because just as likely as someone kidnapping you or your kids is the likelihood that they would need to be found. Located because the geolocation on a cellphone is turned on. In a disaster or emergency situation, that geolocation could provide valuable information for those trying to help you out. At a time when you’re most unlikely to be posting pictures and other visual information, and there is nothing much else to go by, having your geolocation turned on could actually save your life.

Think again before turning it off. And perhaps if you are truly concerned about privacy, you should post less text and images from locations that identify where you are at, who you are with, and what you are doing. Look at your range of privacy settings. There is a reason that Facebook has over 140 settings. Trawl through those. Ensure others can’t tag you in images or locations. That’s a far better way to start.


  • Good points. The only reason I started using Latitude was to share it with my partner so she could locate me in an emergency if I wasn’t responding to calls/SMS – tho sadly Latitude kinda sucks on my ol’ Nokia.

  • As the author of one of those articles, I have to point out a couple of things.

    First, I was explaining that GPS data is being revealed even when you have specifically chosen not to. The example that led to the post was someone who tweeted a photo from her new house and had no idea it revealed her address. That is a huge security risk for someone who thinks that data is a bit more private.

    Second, and more amusingly, I love that you lead with “privacy fear flag” and end with exhortations to leave the GPS on so emergency response people can find you in an emergency. I guess that’s a different fear flag, huh?

    Last, those FB (et al) settings…well, my article was predicated on that the person HAS set those settings (in Instagram) and they do not, in fact, provide the level of privacy they promise. That the maps were silently pulled from Instagram the next day may speak louder than either of our articles.


  • Hi Beth, thanks for your addition. Please note my piece was not written in response to yours. In fact, I hadn’t read yours at all. I do, however, commonly read many posts with the “oh did you know you’re risking your children’s lives to predators by not turning off geolocation” message. These panics are more wrapped around media hyperbole than in rational thinking. My point is it’s far more likely that the only people using geolocation are going to be emergency services, not murderers and kidnappers. If murderers and kidnappers are after us or our children, all they need to do is look at our behaviors in social media. Most often our everyday posts tell more than enough about who we are, and where we are located.

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