The next wave of online technologies will include
mobile devices that are able to pinpoint the locations of their
users relatively accurately. Whether through the location of
cell towers or Global Positioning Systems, devices like phones,
handheld computers, and pagers will have the capacity to learn,
record, and communicate users' locations. This is especially
driven by the U.S. federal
government mandate requiring mobile phone services to be
able to track and communicate the locations of users.
The potential benefits of location tracking are enormous. It can
improve emergency response and public safety because people will be able to
make distress calls that note their exact locations to authorities. It can
also give consumers seamless information about where they are, including
weather forecasts, traffic, movie listings, and local restaurants and stores.
The potential exists to make consumers feel instantly at home in any city
of the world.
At the same time, the fact that location information can be tracked and
recorded represents a threat to privacy. Collections of information about where
individuals go, and what they do there, may create too large a window onto their
lives. Potentially, this information may fall into the hands of strangers and
be misused, or it may be wrongly used by government investigators.
As mobile devices are able to track the locations of consumers, the companies
that make them and that use location information to offer products and services
should inform consumers that their locations can be tracked, make them aware of the
benefits and drawbacks, and allow them to make educated decisions about whether
to take advantage of this technology.
High-Tech Homing Devices Worry Privacy Advocates, by Mary Deibel,
Scripps Howard News Service (January 1, 2001)
Wireless Web, Data Services and Beyond: Emerging Technologies and Consumer Issues,
Federal Trade Commission workshop (December 11-12, 2000)
Internet Devices Coming that Reveal Your Location, Associated
Press (October 30, 2000)