Your Location History: Legitimate Concerns about Privacy or Not a Problem?
If you are a frequent reader of this blog or of technology related news feeds, it should come as no surprise that location has rapidly become one of the basic means of communicating, marketing, and crowdsourcing in our modern world. Is the data that you are inadvertently communicating through your mobile device that powers many web mapping services via crowdsourcing making our world more efficient and sustainable? Take the common example of your position moving through traffic, communicated from location information on your smartphone, calculated using the miracle of web mapping technology into speed, and combined with others to create real-time information about which routes are currently running sluggishly and which are running quickly in your metropolitan area. Most would argue that yes, this does make people’s commutes more efficient by saving time. Moreover, it saves fuel through a multiplier effect if even a fraction of the vast number of people commuting at any given time around the world adjust their behavior by avoiding traffic snarls and idling their engines.
Is that same data compromising your personal privacy? Most would probably argue that while each of us gives up a bit of location privacy for these real time traffic feeds, the resulting public benefit far outweighs the costs. An analogy from the 1990s might be the personal information that most of us shared with grocery businesses in order to obtain a ‘discount card’ from our local food store.
The “tipping point” of concern for some on the personal privacy seems to be where location services allow you, and by extension, depending on the application, anyone, to see your own personal location and movements over time. For example, examine this page describing how location reporting from an iPhone and iPad allows Google to store a history of your location devices where you are logged into your Google account and have enabled location history, or related articles about Android devices. There are ways to override this location history, but it takes just that–overriding the defaults, and–will this override be possible in the future?
I checked, and I don’t have any location history, at least in Google. But would it matter if I did? As a person who loves and works with maps on a daily basis, part of me was a little disappointed, actually, that I couldn’t see what I thought might be a fascinating set of maps showing some of my field work over the past few months, which included some brisk but pleasant walks along the lakefront in Chicago during the AAG annual meeting and a trek through a wetland in Wisconsin afterwards.
I frequently work with secondary and university students, and in my conversations with them, I’ve noticed that the younger generation generally doesn’t see a problem with sharing anything in the digital world, whether it is their location, photos, videos, links, whatever. So, is it just my generation that is a wee bit nervous about the potential harm that could result from personal data being mined? Should other generations be concerned? Our goal in this blog and in our book is to raise awareness of the power and utility of geospatial information, and also to critically assess its quality,use, and implications.