Location Privacy And All The Fuss Around It

Social check-in services have a secret agenda. They’ve grown to keep their user’s engaged by awarding them “new badges”, they make money by signing up deals with the famous places.

If every one wins, what’s all this fuss about “Location Privacy” that’s on the news last week?

I would classify the end-users who are “affected” by this into two groups based on voluntary and involuntary contributions of their location data. It’s mostly the involuntary contributors who are bothered by this, well they should be. More on that below.

Voluntary contributors usually know that their location is available publicly or to a set of online friends and aren’t bothered about social check-in websites using the data to promote their business. Examples of these services – FourSquare, Gowalla, Facebook Places & Google Latitude Check-Ins. If we look at the facts, it’s a win-win situation for every one. Google gets money when people use their services (say search), Shops are happy to reward regular customers (this is not new, don’t u carry a rewards card already?), and finally the end-users are showered with discounts.

Involuntary contributors are those who occasionally don’t know that their location is being tracked/uploaded off to a 3rd party server (usually anonymously). UK based digital investigation service CCL recently announced that they assisted British police in finding the internet history of an evading criminal through data uncovered in the suspects smart phone data Google had made sure was recorded for themselves. The computer forensics firm used state-of-art software developed by themselves to break into the “vault” of the smart phone in order to find what Google didn’t want anyone to find. What they found was impressive even for Google’s standards: timestamps, numbers of times visited, and most importantly the way the site was found through other sites, and what phrases were used to find the information in question.

Also contributing to this F.U.D is Apple iOS also secretly logging the user’s location in an unencrypted file which is accessible without even rooting the phone and Apple issued a firmware upgrade to immediately fix this issue.

To the end of the day, there will always be people who hate that the internet has gone deeper into their private life and there will be others who’d appreciate it as they eventually learn to benefitĀ  fromĀ  it. I believe that new-age marketing requires more inputs than randomly collected user preference surveys, it requires live data mining as each user is so unique. I wouldn’t mind sharing a few of my preferences and location data with Google so that I can get today’s dinner suggestions before I get a craving for it or Google automatically suggesting that I need a gas refill even if I forget. It’ll only make my life easier.

Remember, “The web is what you make of it”. I’ll end this post with a very creative video of “Dear Sophie”, an advertisement to promote Google products.

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