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ABA Techshow

Your phone (and everybody else) knows where you are

Posted Apr 6, 2013 5:34 AM CDT
By Mark Hansen

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You may not know it, but you are broadcasting your location to the world every time you use your smartphone, tablet or other mobile device.

That can be a good thing if you're in a car accident in unfamiliar surroundings and you don't know how to tell anybody your location. But it can also be a bad thing if you're a criminal hiding out in the jungle, a would-be criminal or stalker—or the intended target.

Geolocation technology is fast becoming a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives. And that information is increasingly being collected, used, stored and shared by third parties right under our noses.

That scary prospect was the take-away from an ABA Techshow presentation Friday entitled New Geolocation Technologies AKA "Hello Location Based Discovery" by Pittsburgh lawyer David G. Ries, a technology litigator, and his son, Chris, a software security expert at Oracle Corp.

The Reises said geolocation technology has been around for years but is becoming the subject of increasing attention because the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices equipped with location information have made it more accurate, available and useful than ever before, particularly to commercial interests, who can use that information to tailor ads to users based on their location or pattern of frequently visited places..

That development raises serious privacy considerations, the Reises said, including whether users fully understand that their location information is being recorded and reported or that it is being collected, used and shared. Even when such information is disclosed, many users don't realize that it can be correlated across diverse platforms and aggregated by ad networks, analytics companies and other third parties.

The point was brought home by an informal poll of the audience, which showed that nobody had read the permissions policies when installing an app on their mobile device, which allow the app to access specified types of information, like location..

"It gets kind of scary when you look at it," David Reis said.

The Federal Communications Commission has taken notice. In a report last year, the FCC said the promise of location-based technology comes with challenges and concerns.

"Because mobile devices have the ability—and often the technical requirement—to regularly transmit their location to a network, they also enable the creation of a precise record of a user's locations over time.This can result in the creation of a very accurate and highly personal user profile, which raises questions of how, when and by whom this information can and should be used."

So have the creators of the website PleaseRobMe.com, which uses Twitter's search functionality to find and display location-based messages to alert consumers to the risks of sharing too much information online. ——

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