Location has arrived – and it is raising all sorts of privacy concerns. In the past few months alone:
1. Facebook launches “Places” and within hours the media and privacy begin criticizing the service as failing to adequately, address privacy concerns.
2. Congressman Bobby Rush introduces legislation that would for the first time regulate on a broad scale the collection, use and distribution of location information on individuals in the U.S..
3. Federal appeals court in District of Columbia finds that the use of a tracking device to monitor a suspect for a month without obtaining a warrant was an an unreasonable search and seizure. This decision directly conflicts other court decisions, with some suggesting that Supreme Court may have to resolve issue.
4. Media reports that citizens on Long Island are complaining that government agencies are acting like Big Brother by using Google Earth to find unpermitted swimming pools in backyard.
5. Government officials in Germany are considering increasing regulations on Google collecting Street View imagery as a result of privacy concerns.
6. Article details how much sensitive information can be obtained from geotagged photos posted on-line.
7. Decision expected from federal court on whether law enforcement needs to obtain a warrant before obtaining location information from mobile phone provider.
8. In Maine, the attorney general struggles whether to allow GPS devices to be attached to citizens' cars by lenders wishing to track vehicle usage for resale of auto loans.
Each of these are examples of how society is grappling with how to deal with the impact of different technologies on the concept of privacy from a location standpoint. As these technologies becomes more ubiquitous, the complexity of the issues are only going to increase. (For example, companies will use software that will predict where you are going to be in the future based upon where you have been in the past.)
I do not know how all this will play out. (Althought I have some ideas!) However, my sense is that this is much bigger - and the conversation should be much broader - than debating such things as whether location privacy settings on Facebook should be opt-in or opt out. What is needed is an informed dialogue and debate on how location technology is changing our lives and which are privacy concerns are legitimate and which are normal reactions to being uncomfortable with the introduction of new technology.
Location technology has the potential to save lives, provide valuable commercial and governmental services and make our planet a better and more sustainable place to live. However, it will never reach its full potential until consistent and transparent laws and policies surrounding location privacy are developed!