Privacy and Location-based Services

by Stephen Bolen on Jul 12, 2010

Privacy, as Mark Zuckerberg famously quipped, “is dead.” Social Fresh blogger Matt Ridings wrote a great piece here – In Defense of Facebook? A Response – that details some of the concerns with the world’s most popular social network.

Eye of Sauron: Remember, Big Brother is watching you check in to Starbucks

I'm watching you check in to Starbucks.

But what if it’s not the social network, but rather the mobile hardware/software that’s allowing you to access said networks that’s invading your privacy?

The Consumerist recently reported on Apple’s updated section on Location-based data in its privacy policy:

Apple updated its privacy policy today, with an important, and dare we say creepy new paragraph about location information.

Here’s the text of the location privacy policy in question:

To provide location-based services on Apple products, Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services.

Some location-based services offered by Apple, such as the MobileMe “Find My iPhone” feature, require your personal information for the feature to work.

It’s not just Apple — Google’s Android data collection policy is similar to Apple’s (and obviously less verbose):

Google offers location-enabled services, such as Google Maps for mobile. If you use those services, Google may receive information about your actual location (such as GPS signals sent by a mobile device) or information that can be used to approximate a location (such as a cell ID).

Personally, I don’t see it as a big deal – I’m choosing to use these services, therefore subjecting my data for collection. I opted in, because I felt there was value being provided.

Congress thinks it’s kind of a big deal…

Recently, Ed Markey (D-MA) and Joe Barton (R-TX), sent a letter to Apple, asking CEO Steve Jobs to answer questions about Apple’s new privacy policy. (View PDF)

Without being too much of a policy wonk, Reps Markey and Barton are asking 9 basic questions about Apple’s geolocation data collection practices, mainly dealing with Section 222 of the Communications Act, which “mandates that no consumer location information be shared without the explicit prior consent of the consumer.”

Barista BadgeIn a nutshell, these privacy policies are making it known that when you use an application like Google Maps or Foursquare on your mobile appliance, the operating system/carrier are collecting data on your location to pass through to your requested service.

Is it a big deal? Well, that depends on how you feel about your anonymous user data being sent to third parties in exchange for a service. Or how badly you want that Barista badge…

How worried should I be about these privacy policies?

Here’s a nifty chart. The more Zuckerbergs you see on the 1-5 scale (with one Zuckerberg being not a big deal & five Zuckerbergs being the end of the world as you know it), the more concerned you should be.
I am a Small Business Owner: – why be concerned? You’re not having your data compromised on check-ins. If anything, you’re now able to gleam new information out of LBS activity around your business!
I am a Large Corporation: – See also, small business owner (only on a much, much larger scale).
I am a Private Citizen: – This really depends on how you feel about the storage and dissemination of your LBS data to “trusted partners.”
I am a Private Citizen with a Hotmail account: – You probably don’t even know you have location-based services on your phone.

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Post Author

Stephen Bolen (@sbolen) is a St. Louis-based social media professional specializing in B2B marketing and web content management. He also owns and operates Gamma Ray Media, specializing in small business internet marketing....

  • http://mobthink.com/ Rab

    Ignorance is bliss… until it becomes a big privacy breach that I / We / They were not expecting to surface. I think the Zuckerberg rating for Large Corporations (any corporations really) and Private Citizens “with Hotmail” should in reality float higher than SMB. Corporate Social Media Policy is going to be under review again, now with implications of geo location in mind.