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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Location, Location, Location: Protecting or Releasing your location data

Geo-fencing can be used to determine when a vehicle or a
mobile device is in a particular area.
Continued from our prior article: Part of what makes modern tracking possible is the ability to tie together a vast array of records using location data. In years past, records would be correlated using someone’s Social Security number — until identity theft and privacy concerns curbed the practice. Now location is becoming the uniting element that makes it possible to link the bits of someone’s life together.

The act of pooling location data, however, can often break the protections that keep personal details private. Unless proper controls are in place, commercial firms may be able to determine religious and political beliefs and even map out someone’s circle of friends. Police and national security agencies may implement similar methods for different purposes.

Geofencing is a technique that can be used to determine the members of a social network.

One establishes a virtual perimeter around a particular point, then uses location data to note who enters the enclosed area. The perimeter, for example, might be around a concert venue — which enables music promoters to gain insight into ticket-buying fans. The perimeter does not, however, have to be centered on a fixed place. One can set a geofence around a person’s cell phone. Over time it would be possible to see who came into contact with that individual and discover who their acquaintances are

“With current location information,” said Leger, “you can you discern over time who somebody’s friends are.” Some companies are already doing this, she said.
Correlating position data can uncover previously
unknown social networks.

Moreover, this is not the kind of analysis that has to be done in real time. If the data has been saved, a network map can be prepared retrospectively — and some companies save such information indefinitely, said Leger. Although the commercial value of such analysis is not yet clear, such details could be used to map out the connections between criminals or terrorists confirmed Leger.

That kind of in-depth analysis, however, is still relatively unusual, said Arthur Berrill, vice president of technology at DMTI Spatial and a contributor to the Location Forum’s privacy guidelines.

The biggest potential curb on the use of location data is not regulation, which so far has been lagging, but consumer reaction — especially when they feel their privacy is at risk. Only 26 to 28 percent of app buyers say ‘Yes,’ when asked if they want to share their location information, said Khan. A 2011 survey by the White Horse Digital Futures Group found that nearly a third of those who knew about location apps, but chose not to use them, cited privacy concerns.

“They sort of freak me out. I’m not sure that it’s good to always let others know my location,” said an Atlanta, Georgia, woman in her 20s told the surveyors.

The issue with privacy, said Khan, is that people do not understand the benefits of sharing their location.

“When you get an app on an iPhone, one of the first questions you get asked when you download that app is ‘Are you willing to share your location?’” he says. “And most people say ‘No.’ And the reason . . . is because that is not the question to ask. Because you haven’t first told people what they are going to get if they share their location.

What you should be saying is, ‘Thanks for downloading this app, by sharing your location you are going to get A, B and C. Now, would you like to share your location?’ You are going to get a lot more yeses if you take that approach than the approach they have today where they ask if you want to share your location without explaining why.”

It is not clear, however, that everyone understands the implications of agreeing to share their location.

“If you have a news app that asks you ‘Can I use your location data?’ and it’s a free app, more than likely people will say ‘Yes,’” explained Leger. “But if that same pop-up said ‘Can I use your financial information?’ You’d probably hesitate because you already have a preconceived notion of the sensitivity of that financial information. People do not have a preconceived notion of the sensitivity of location data.”