Do Data Location and Privacy Go Together?

Meet Andrew Blumberg. While sitting in a coffee shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he rattles off for a Boston Globe reporter the numerous technologies that record and store his location data on a daily basis.

He counts 12 different technologies! From swiping his credit card to using an EZ Pass at tolls, Blumberg is well aware that he is being tracked, as shown in the map featured in the original Boston Globe article.

Is all this location data collected in a secret, master database accessible to the government and big corporations?

Doubtful. Certainly, some of this data is aggregated and sold or transferred.

Credit card companies, for example, can and will adjust credit terms based on where you’ve shopped and location data they obtain directly when someone like Blumberg swipes his credit card to buy coffee.

“At this point you really can’t opt out of all this,” Blumberg said as he held up his iPhone.

 

It’s too convenient. Unless you’re living in a hut somewhere, you really don’t have any choice. It’s like trying to opt out of the sewer system.”

Technology, Location, and Privacy

Interestingly, he holds up his iPhone when making this statement because the iPhone is a great example of a technology platform where privacy has flourished in respect to location data.

An avid iPhone user myself, I’m pleased that before mobile iPhone apps can use my location information I am prompted first with an opt-in screen.

Sure, most of the time I click “ok” because I want the benefit of using the service in its full capacity, but the point is that the opt-out choice exists and it’s meaningful because the consumer has notice and choice before the point of information collection.

Choice is fundamental to privacy and when it comes to the world of location data Apple and mobile innovators like Yelp and Loopt have done a great job of enabling consumer choice and thereby protecting consumer privacy.

I would encourage companies to make their location data collection practices similarly transparent by establishing consumer-friendly privacy policies and by providing consumers with meaningful choice before the point of location data collection.

It’s one thing to say, “you really don’t have any choice” about location data collection because the service or product is too attractive or convenient to turn down.

But it’s quite another thing to say “you really don’t have any choice” about location data collection because you were not notified of the collection nor presented with an actual choice.

It’s the latter that should concern us.

If a company comes up with a fantastic product or service that needs my location data and provides me with clear notice of collection and meaningful choice, guess what?

I’ll probably opt-in. And that’s my choice.