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Home > Privacy and Business > Online Privacy > Mobile Devices and Privacy

Mobile Devices and Privacy

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)

The Mobile 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)

Comments? (Subject: MobileDevices)

[updated 5/01/00]

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