Monday, 22 August 2011

Disclosing your location online - smart move or playing with fire?

Short time ago I posted about a possibility that Facebook was infringing German privacy and data protection laws (Facial recognition software...) by enabling its applications to recognize people on the photos that were posted on Facebook via a facial recognition software. It seems that representatives of Facebook in Germany may have other worries soon (Facebook Places worries Germany).

German authorities are now criticising Facebook for its 'Places' application. By use of this application, consumers are able to disclose their precise location on a map, which is most often uploaded automatically (upon the original choice to use this application is made by a consumer) via consumer's smartphone. Sure, you can compare it to Foursquare, e.g., and ask what's the problem with using this application. After all, it will allow your friends to see whether you are in their neighbourhood and allow them to join you for a drink, movie, etc. However, there is a dark side to this story, as well. What if this data became available to a thief who could see whether you were at home at a given moment? Or, you had a quarrel with someone and really didn't want to run into him that night, but he spotted your whereabouts on Facebook Places and followed you around the town. What if you attract a stalker? Moreover, you might soon notice how you are being targeted with advertisement based on the locations you visit...

In Germany, authorities are arguing that consumers are making private data available online without understanding all the dangeres involved in this process. It is not a new issue, but one that consumers seem to be unable to fully grasp. Many websites mention the danger of sharing too many of your personal information online, e.g. Please Rob Me website.

"The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you're definitely not... home. So here we are; on one end we're leaving lights on when we're going on a holiday, and on the other we're telling everybody on the internet we're not home."

Still, there is no legal bans (for now) for allowing consumers to choose online services which gather and use geographical data. It remains to be seen whether the use of such data will be common in our future or whether the fear of infringement of consumer's privacy will win.

On the website of ACMA (The Australian Communications and Media Authority) you may find some tips as to how to protect yourself if you choose to use these services. Online Social Networking - location-based services.

On why we use the geo-location services, see: Why We Check In: The Reasons People Use Location-Based Social Networks

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