Are Mac apps secretly monitoring your location?

World map

If you have a recent Apple MacBook or iMac and recent version of OS X such as Mavericks, Yosemite or El Capitan, it is possible for apps that you run are working out your current location. They can tell quite accurately where in the world you are and this extends right down to the name of the street and sometimes even the building you are currently in, using your Mac.

There is no need to panic though because this is not being done surreptitiously and it is all above board. However, you do need to check which of the apps you have installed are regularly accessing your location and ask yourself whether you want to allow them to have access to this information. Do you think that it is OK for apps to know where your are, or do you value your privacy?

Some apps will not work as well if they don't know your location and they may need it to show the weather for example.

Related: Increase security and privacy in OS X Yosemite

To see how location information is used, go to the Apple menu in the menu bar and select System Preferences. Click Security & Privacy and select Location Services in the list on the left. Click the padlock in the bottom left corner of the window and enter your administrator password or everything will be greyed out and inaccessible.

Now you can see the apps that can determine your location. The three shown here are obvious ones and they have legitimate reasons for wanting to know your location. Is your Mac as clean as this or are there other apps that are accessing your location?

OS X location services

If there is an arrow icon on the right of an application, it indicates that it has accessed your location in the last 24 hours. When apps use location services they should display an arrow in the menu bar, but you might not notice and it may even be possible to suppress this.

The screen shot above is from OS X Mavericks and Yosemite and El Capitan adds an extra item at the bottom called System Services. Click the Details button and there is an option to show an indicator (arrow) in the menu bar whenever an app or the system determines your location. There is an option to allow or block Spotlight from using your location when showing search suggestions.

OS X Yosemite location services

Apps that track your location usually do so for a good reason, such as to show maps, show local information, tag data or images to show where they were created and so on. There is probably nothing to worry about on your Mac, but it is something you should check and not simply take for granted.

Related: Is your Mac vulnerable to the NTP hack?



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