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Rahul Thadani

Future Watch III: Location based tracking threatens individual privacy

June 18, 2012
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Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Location mapping is a highly useful tool to study social behavior but it also poses a real threat to the privacy of individuals. GPS signals collected via smartphones are just the tip of the iceberg. The latest location mapping tool, known as Indoor Positioning System (IPS), makes use of Wi-Fi signals from devices. This helps track the physical location of a Wi-Fi enabled device (like a smartphone, a tablet or a laptop) inside a large building. The Wi-Fi needs to be switched on so if one wishes to avoid such tracking one can simply switch it off or not use such devices.

Advantages of Wi-Fi tracking

  • This implies that a person can be tracked in real-time inside a building and his exact physical location can be viewed. This is especially useful for companies and buildings that are prone to security issues.
  • Advertisers can make use of this feature to inform customers about discounted deals. Directions on how to reach their stores or inside a particular entry-point can also be provided.
  • An individual can use this service to learn his exact location inside a large structure. He can find specific floors, departments or other destinations with ease. For instance, location guides, restrooms, ATMs and other destinations can be collected by customers with the use of IPS features.

Threats of location-based data mining

  • Companies that use this service gain precise data about people and their mapped locations. Combining this data with information from the Census can also fetch demographic and ethnicity databases. While this data aids several industries, the misuse of this information can breach many privacy laws.
  • This data can subsequently be shared with app developers, device makers or marketers which can further invade the privacy of individuals.
  • Google is also planning to integrate Google Maps with this feature. They have already taken Google Maps indoors in the past, so this apparently is a logical extension. Since scanned versions of individual floors can be viewed and precise 3D rendered maps collated, it would unfortunately open up another avenue for Google to target location-specific ads. So unquestionably, privacy intrusions would be inevitable.

As far as privacy policies are concerned, such companies do not exactly have transparent terms. They claim that they store consolidated records of data to improve the quality of search and provide more relevant and useful ads. But this can also give them access to stacks of confidential data about people. The future of security isn’t bullet-proof and will certainly face issues pertinent to privacy laws, location-tracking and data-hoarding. This PCWorld post will also provide you with more information on the same.

Future enhancements

  • Augmented reality will subsequently be implemented so the mapper could actually see what the person sees in real-time.
  • Other aspects of devices like the accelerometer, the gyroscope, the altimeter and the magnetometer can also be used. For instance, a mapper could see how many steps a person took and the direction and the altitude of movement as well. This could be valuable or creepy, depending on the purpose that the data is utilized for.

As of now, the commercial usage of location-based services and wireless tracking are advantageous and convenient. But over time, as this data gets stored and categorized, it could pose a threat to the privacy of individuals. However, we always advise people to use best Internet security software like Quick Heal. Be cautious while submitting data, clicking on ads on Facebook or other social networking sites. Be aware of how the information you give away is being used.

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

Rahul Thadani
About Rahul Thadani
Rahul is a web enthusiast and blogger, and has been writing about the computer security industry for the last three years. Following the latest technology trends,...
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5 Comments

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  1. This is a good write-up. I was watching the movie Die Hard 4, and I was worried to learn about the apocalypse that can be caused if technology falls in the wrong hands.

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  2. I read this article fully regarding the difference of newest and preceding technologies, it’s awesome article.

    Reply
  3. I’m totally aggree on the above article. The example of Die Hard IV is well enough to understand the futuristic threats. If there are pros for any technology the definetely cons lies.We have seen some cases in past where the Wifi Home networks were hacked by some terrorists and used to send mails in India resulted into some terror attacks.

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  4. Yeah…!!!
    Whenever the Technology Borns..it always have pro`s and cons tooo…!!!
    Similarly it depends on the User`s and the their..mindsets…!!
    Really it has just sailed us to the future of wi-fi too…!!

    Thanks Rahul…!!!

    Reply
  5. Thanks Wolfgang and Sameer.
    @Om: That’s a good example you have cited there regarding wi-fi networks.

    Reply