The PJ Tatler

Cell Phone? Ankle Bracelet? What's the Difference?

Time was when a fella could light out for the territories, drop off the grid, hit the road and be gone. No more. Today, your mobile phone broadcasts your whereabouts constantly, so good luck with holing up in the Painted Desert and waiting for the fuss to blow over. Even the messenger aps rat you out:

If you use Facebook Messenger on an Android phone you might want to check your settings. The app tracks and sends your location to everyone you chat with — by default. You can turn off location tracking and sharing by clicking the compass icon above the Like button in your chat threads. If the icon is blue, the feature is on.

A Facebook spokesman told CNNMoney the app only tracks you if the app is open, and if you’re in a specific conversation thread. He said the app does not track location if Messenger is running in the background.

No, the phone itself does that all by itself, as long as it’s on. But why make it easier for snoops and stalkers?

If you want to be safe, open the Settings tab within the Android app and disable location completely. Though the default is “off” on an iPhone, you can also disable location tracking in iOS by going into Settings>Privacy>Location>Services, and set the option to “Never.”

Many people were not aware of the default setting until this week, when a Harvard computer science student launched a Chrome extension that can plot Messenger location data on a map.

“The latitude and longitude coordinates of the message locations have more than 5 decimal places of precision, making it possible to pinpoint the sender’s location to less than a meter,” Aran Khanna wrote on his Medium blog.

Here’s what Khanna has to say:

As you may know, when you send a message from the Messenger app there is an option to send your location with it. What I realized was that almost every other message in my chats had a location attached to it, so I decided to have some fun with this data. I wrote a Chrome extension for the Facebook Messenger page (https://www.facebook.com/messages/) that scrapes all this location data and plots it on a map.

Go ahead and see how many messages in your chats have locations attached. I’m guessing it’s a lot of them. And if this isn’t already starting to get a bit weird, the first thing I noticed when I started to write my code was that the latitude and longitude coordinates of the message locations have more than 5 decimal places of precision, making it possible to pinpoint the sender’s location to less than a meter. Once the extension was written I naturally started seeing what kind of things I could discover about my Facebook friends.

Read the whole thing; it’s fascinating. And it may make you think twice about Facebook.