Your Mobile Device Wants Your Location Information– Implications for Personal Privacy (Part 1)
January 24, 2013 by Barbara Berschler
In earlier blogs I discussed developments related to privacy protection and the collection of personal data about children through mobile apps. Needless to say, concern for privacy protection is of great interest to everyone not just parents and children.
For example, personal data easily generated by mobile devices is information about your location. Some may feel that providing this kind of information is worthwhile, because they can receive timely news about nearby activities or sales promotions. Vendors love this information because it enables them better to reach customers on the verge of purchase decisions.
While there is the short term convenience a user gains by revealing her location, what about the aggregation of information about her movements over a long period of time? The app that offers a timely sales pitch can at the same time accumulate information about a user’s movements, which can result in a highly detailed picture about the user. It is a given that this kind of specific detail is valuable to vendors; but when would such accumulation cross the line of a person’s reasonable expectations of personal privacy?
Because mobile app technology is advancing rapidly, regulators, legislators and advocacy groups are raising the alarm. The main challenge is to find workable ways to balance the consumer’s need to be adequately informed so as to give knowing consent to the accumulation of information about their movements, and vendor and marketer needs to be in the best position to make “a sale.” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/technology/legislation-would-regulate-tracking-of-cellphone-users.html?nl=technology&emc=edit_tu_20130107&_r=0
Recently, a number of governmental and association players have offered some “guidance” to help app developers, app platform providers and mobile ad networks adopt “best practices” as they go forward with the creation of new mobile products.
Among these developments are the just released recommendations of the California Attorney General for “Mobile Ecosystem Stakeholders.” http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/pdfs/privacy/privacy_on_the_go.pdf
In addition, the App Developers Alliance, Consumer Action, World Privacy Forum and the ACLU are working together on proposals for screen mock-ups that app developers can incorporate to inform users as to what data will be collected and who will have access to it.
Finally, the Federal Trade Commission recently issued its report, “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change.” http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2012/03/privacyframework.shtm
There is a trade-off between convenience and protecting personal privacy. Those who are looking to benefit from what the new technology offers, whether as a user or service provider, should become more informed of the scope of the debate. As I will discuss in Part 2 of this series of blogs, the technological revolution will not just affect business transactions but could inform how law enforcement can proceed when collecting information about a suspect. Stay tuned…..