Posts Tagged ‘privacy’

On Locational Privacy, and How to Avoid Losing it Forever (EFF)

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

[Editor's note: It's possible to enjoy pervasive GPS and enjoy privacy, too. A congressional subcommittee held a joint hearing titled, “The Collection and Use of Location Information for Commercial Purposes” on Wednesday. Learn more in this white paper from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Thanks GIS User!]

Republished from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
By Andrew J. Blumberg and Peter Eckersley, August 2009

PDF file

Also available as a PDF
in English and Bulgarian.

Over the next decade, systems which create and store digital records of people’s movements through public space will be woven inextricably into the fabric of everyday life. We are already starting to see such systems now, and there will be many more in the near future.

Here are some examples you might already have used or read about:

  • Monthly transit swipe-cards
  • Electronic tolling devices (FastTrak, EZpass, congestion pricing)
  • Cellphones
  • Services telling you when your friends are nearby
  • Searches on your PDA for services and businesses near your current location
  • Free Wi-Fi with ads for businesses near the network access point you’re using
  • Electronic swipe cards for doors
  • Parking meters you can call to add money to, and which send you a text message when your time is running out

These systems are marvellously innovative, and they promise benefits ranging from increased convenience to transformative new kinds of social interaction.

Unfortunately, these systems pose a dramatic threat to locational privacy.

What is “locational privacy”?

Locational privacy (also known as “location privacy”) is the ability of an individual to move in public space with the expectation that under normal circumstances their location will not be systematically and secretly recorded for later use. The systems discusssed above have the potential to strip away locational privacy from individuals, making it possible for others to ask (and answer) the following sorts of questions by consulting the location databases:

  • Did you go to an anti-war rally on Tuesday?
  • A small meeting to plan the rally the week before?
  • At the house of one “Bob Jackson”?
  • Did you walk into an abortion clinic?
  • Did you see an AIDS counselor?
  • Have you been checking into a motel at lunchtimes?
  • Why was your secretary with you?
  • Did you skip lunch to pitch a new invention to a VC? Which one?
  • Were you the person who anonymously tipped off safety regulators about the rusty machines?
  • Did you and your VP for sales meet with ACME Ltd on Monday?
  • Which church do you attend? Which mosque? Which gay bars?
  • Who is my ex-girlfriend going to dinner with?

Of course, when you leave your home you sacrifice some privacy. Someone might see you enter the clinic on Market Street, or notice that you and your secretary left the Hilton Gardens Inn together. Furthermore, in the world of ten years ago, all of this information could be obtained by people who didn’t like you or didn’t trust you.

But obtaining this information used to be expensive. Your enemies could hire a guy in a trench coat to follow you around,but they had to pay him. Moreover, it was hard to keep the surveillance secret — you had a good chance of noticing your tail ducking into an alley.

In the world of today and tomorrow, this information is quietly collected by ubiquitous devices and applications, and available for analysis to many parties who can query, buy or subpeona it. Or pay a hacker to steal a copy of everyone’s location history.

It is this transformation to a regime in which information about your location is collected pervasively, silently, and cheaply that we’re worried about.

Continue reading at Electronic Frontier Foundation . . .

Introducing Google Latitude (Google)

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

[Editor's note: Google get's on board the social network geotagging, tweeting band wagon by unveiling Google Latitude for the iPhone, G1, Blackberry, and desktop computers. See your friends' location and status live on a Google Maps mashup. Privacy settings are buildt into the service so you can pick and choose what level of location detail is revealed per friend.]

Republished from Google.
Additional coverage from MacNN.
Original post Feb. 4, 2009.

With Google Latitude, you can:

  • See where your friends are and what they are up to
  • Quickly contact them with SMS, IM, or a phone call
  • Maintain complete control over your privacy

Enjoy Google Latitude on your phone, PC, or both.

From your mobile phone – View your friends’ locations and status messages and share yours with them.

From your computer – View your friends’ locations and status messages on a full screen even without a compatible phone or data plan. Click here to see your friends from your PC.

Google Latitude is a feature of Google Maps for mobile on these phones:

  • Android-powered devices, such as the T-Mobile G1
  • iPhone and iPod touch devices (coming soon)
  • most color BlackBerry devices
  • most Windows Mobile 5.0+ devices
  • most Symbian S60 devices (Nokia smartphones)
  • many Java-enabled (J2ME) mobile phones, such as Sony Ericsson devices (coming soon)

See demonstration videos and more at Google . . .

I Am Here: One Man’s Experiment With the Location-Aware Lifestyle (Wired Mag)

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

[Editor's note: Anyone concerned about geotagging and privacy should read this informative article from Wired Magazine. Author Mathew Honan became a geo-guinea pig by geotagging his entire life for a couple weeks and posting it live all his social networking site. Read about his experience's pros and cons. It might just change your life.]

Republished from Wired Magazine.
By Mathew Honan Email 01.19.09.
Image above caption: Mathew Honan: 37.769958 °N, 122.467233 °W. Photo: Jason Madara
Related article:
Inside the GPS Revolution: 10 Applications That Make the Most of Location

I’m baffled by WhosHere. And I’m no newbie. I built my first Web page in 1994, wrote my first blog entry in 1999, and sent my first tweet in October 2006. My user number on Yahoo’s event site, Upcoming.org: 14. I love tinkering with new gadgets and diving into new applications. But WhosHere had me stumped. It’s an iPhone app that knows where you are, shows you other users nearby, and lets you chat with them. Once it was installed and running, I drew a blank. What was I going to do with this thing?

So I asked for some help. I started messaging random people within a mile of my location (37.781641 °N, 122.393835 °W), asking what they used WhosHere for.

My first response came from someone named Bridget, who, according to her profile, at least, was a 25 year-old woman with a proclivity for scarves. “To find sex, asshole,” she wrote.

“I’m sorry? You mean it’s for finding people to have sex with?” I zapped back.

“Yes, I use it for that,” she wrote. “It’s my birthday,” she added.

“Happy birthday,” I offered.

“Send me a nude pic for my birthday,” she replied.

A friendly offer, but I demurred. Anonymous geoshagging is not what I had in mind when I imagined what the GPS revolution could mean to me.

The location-aware future—good, bad, and sleazy—is here. Thanks to the iPhone 3G and, to a lesser extent, Google’s Android phone, millions of people are now walking around with a gizmo in their pocket that not only knows where they are but also plugs into the Internet to share that info, merge it with online databases, and find out what—and who—is in the immediate vicinity. That old saw about how someday you’ll walk past a Starbucks and your phone will receive a digital coupon for half off on a Frappuccino? Yeah, that can happen now.

Simply put, location changes everything. This one input—our coordinates—has the potential to change all the outputs. Where we shop, who we talk to, what we read, what we search for, where we go—they all change once we merge location and the Web.

I wanted to know more about this new frontier, so I became a geo-guinea pig. My plan: Load every cool and interesting location-aware program I could find onto my iPhone and use them as often as possible. For a few weeks, whenever I arrived at a new place, I would announce it through multiple social geoapps. When going for a run, bike ride, or drive, I would record my trajectory and publish it online. I would let digital applications help me decide where to work, play, and eat. And I would seek out new people based on nothing but their proximity to me at any given moment. I would be totally open, exposing my location to the world just to see where it took me. I even added an Eye-Fi Wi-Fi card to my PowerShot digital camera so that all my photos could be geotagged and uploaded to the Web. I would become the most location-aware person on the Internets!

The trouble started right away. While my wife and I were sipping stouts at our neighborhood pub in San Francisco (37.770401 °N, 122.445154 °W), I casually mentioned my plan. Her eyes narrowed. “You’re not going to announce to everyone that you’re leaving town without me, are you? A lot of weirdos follow you online.”

Sorry, weirdos—I love you, but she has a point. Because of my work, many people—most of them strangers—track my various Flickr, Twitter, Tumblr, and blog feeds. And it’s true; I was going to be gone for a week on business. Did I really want to tell the world that I was out of town? It wasn’t just leaving my wife home alone that concerned me. Because the card in my camera automatically added location data to my photos, anyone who cared to look at my Flickr page could see my computers, my spendy bicycle, and my large flatscreen TV all pinpointed on an online photo map. Hell, with a few clicks you could get driving directions right to my place—and with a few more you could get black gloves and a lock pick delivered to your home.

To test whether I was being paranoid, I ran a little experiment. On a sunny Saturday, I spotted a woman in Golden Gate Park taking a photo with a 3G iPhone. Because iPhones embed geodata into photos that users upload to Flickr or Picasa, iPhone shots can be automatically placed on a map. At home I searched the Flickr map, and score—a shot from today. I clicked through to the user’s photostream and determined it was the woman I had seen earlier. After adjusting the settings so that only her shots appeared on the map, I saw a cluster of images in one location. Clicking on them revealed photos of an apartment interior—a bedroom, a kitchen, a filthy living room. Now I know where she lives.

Where in the World
Is My iPhone?

To pinpoint your location, your mobile phone talks to cell towers, GPS satellites, and Wi-Fi nodes. But there’s a trade-off between speed and accuracy. Here’s how Apple’s handset knows where you are. — Patrick Di Justo

Cell Towers

Accuracy: varies (about 500 meters in our test)

You might think that your iPhone triangulates its location by using multiple cell towers, but it actually needs only one. After identifying the single nearby tower that it’s pinging, the iPhone queries a database at Google that lists the location of cell towers. That information is sent back to your phone, telling the device approximately where it is.

Pros: Very fast. Works anywhere you have a cell signal, including inside.
Cons: Accurate enough to find restaurants, but not for directions.

Wi-Fi

Accuracy: 30 meters

The iPhone can also pinpoint its location using Wi-Fi. A company called Skyhook cruises cities to map the location of Wi-Fi nodes. The iPhone sniffs them out, measures their signal strength, and reports back to Skyhook’s servers. Based on its database, Skyhook computes where you must be to have that particular pattern of signal strengths.

Pros: Fast. Surprisingly accurate if you’re in an area with high network density.
Cons: Useful only in urban areas with lots of Wi-Fi networks.

GPS

Accuracy: 10 meters

GPS satellites orbit Earth, constantly broadcasting an identification signal, their location in space, and the time on their atomic clock. The iPhone uses assisted GPS, which means it can tap into an assistance server and a reference network, helping to get a more accurate GPS reading more quickly.

Pros: By far the most accurate location system available.
Cons: Although A-GPS is much faster than conventional, it’s still rather slow. And because it requires a view of the sky, it doesn’t work indoors or in built-up urban areas.

Geo-enthusiasts will assure you that these privacy concerns are overplayed: Your cell phone can be used to pinpoint your location anyway, and a skilled hacker could likely get that data from your mobile carrier. Heck, in the UK, tracking mobile phone users is as simple as entering their number on a Web site (as long as they give permission). But the truth is, there just aren’t that many people who want to prey on your location. Still, I can’t help being a little skittish when I start broadcasting my current position and travel plans. I mean, I used to stop newspaper delivery so people wouldn’t realize I was out of town. Now I’ve told everyone on Dopplr that I’m going to DC for five days.

And location info gets around. The first time I saw my home address on Facebook, I jumped—because I never posted it there. Then I realized it was because I had signed up for Whrrl. Like many other geosocial applications, Whrrl lets you cross-post to the microblogging platform Twitter. Twitter, in turn, gets piped to all sorts of other places. So when I updated my location in Whrrl, the message leaped first to Twitter and then to Facebook and FriendFeed before landing on my blog, where Google indexed it. By updating one small app on my iPhone, I had left a giant geotagged footprint across the Web.

A few days later I had another disturbing realization. It’s a Tuesday and I’m blowing off a work meeting in favor of a bike ride through Golden Gate Park (37.771558 °N, 122.454478 °W). Suddenly it hits me—since I would later post my route online with the date and time, I would be just a Google search (“Mat Honan Tuesday noon”) away from getting busted. I’m a freelancer, and these are trying economic times. I can’t afford to have the Internet ratting me out like that.

To learn how to deal with this new openness….

And the punch line:

And that’s when it hit me: I had gained better location awareness but was losing my sense of place. Sure, with the proper social filters, location awareness needn’t be invasive or creepy. But it can be isolating. Even as we gradually digitize our environment, we should remember to look around the old-fashioned way. I took a deep breath, pulled back onto the highway, and drove home—directed by the Google Maps app on my iPhone, of course. And I didn’t get lost once.

Continue reading at Wired . . .