From The Electronic Frontier Foundation :
“Locational privacy is the ability of an individual to move in public space with the expectation that under normal circumstances their location will not be systematically and secretly recorded for later use.”
Many of us are justifiably concerned about the intrusion of government and other entities into our privacy. We sue cities over infringement by stoplight enforcement cameras. We worry about electronic swipe cards and FastTrack cards that chart our location and that our GPS cell phones can be monitored to disclose our location. We fret that Google will track our searches and that free WiFi locations will steal our identities and that the US Census will give the IRS omnipotence over our lives.
So I’m amazed at how willingly some of my friends are just giving up their privacy. I guess it’s the ‘cool technology’ part of it that sucks us in – as though we denizens of the internet have a shred of privacy left to begin with. I’m talking about those of you who are taking the Twitter compulsion to a whole new level with apps like FourSqare and FaceBook Places and Yelp and the host of other new programs that allow you, nay, encourage you, to let everybody know where you are anytime, anyplace complete with a map and photos.
I recently read a great blog on ActiveRain about a guy who organized a little impromptu after work gathering at a bar. He posted it on a couple of the check-in sites and as his friends showed up he noted who had arrived. He was amazed when at least half his friends were less than thrilled to have their whereabouts disclosed without their approval. One friend was righteously pissed off because he had told his wife he had to work a little late and was going to have ‘some splaining to do’ when he got home.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
I had a little fun with a friend of mine over the weekend (well, fun for me anyway). He’s new onto FourSquare and feels the need to let everybody know where he is, what he’s doing and map his every move and he posts the results to FaceBook. Saturday night he posted a map of where he and his wife were dining. Now ‘Bob” lives in a different city than I do but the same county – not that it matters, and I did not know where he lived. I jumped onto one of three sites I have that will give me people’s home addresses and looked him up. Two of these sites are Realtor-centric (i.e. title company or mls sites) the third is the public records tax database from the county recorder available to anyone. I use these although WhoWhere, 411.com and a host of others will give the average Joe much of the same info.
In less than 2 minutes I had Bob’s home address and posted a comment on his FaceBook update – “Bob. Thanks for letting us all know where you & Jenn are going to be for the next couple hours. Check your email.” On a private email I sent the following – “Bob, just pulled your home address from a public website . You know I’m too lazy to drive over to your house tonight but somebody else might be in the neighborhood and glad to know you’ll be gone for the next couple hours. Hope the TV is still there when you get home. Check out PleaseRobMe.com for more info.”
They didn’t cut their dinner short but they also didn’t order desert and they did call the babysitter three times. He was of mixed mind whether to thank me or be pissed at me. But I noticed he either didn’t go anywhere Sunday or at least he wasn’t posting a map of where and when he was.
Like most people, they didn’t realize how easy it is for almost anybody to access your public information on-line and find your address in the blink of an eye. That’s childs play these days. But most people either don’t know or don’t think it will apply to them. I know I’m guilty too – posting when I travel to NAR or on vacation. I feel a little safer because I live in a gated, guarded community and my house is registered under a corporation – but I probably should think twice anyway.
Electronic media has forever changed the way we do business and the way we conduct our personal lives. As our personal privacy dwindles, we might want to think twice about abdicating the few remaining areas we can protect. After all, the IRS already knows where Bob & Jenn had dinner and what they ate and how much they drank. They know if they drank too much to be driving safely, if they went to a movie afterwards or dancing or had more drinks. If they wanted to they could track exactly the route they drove to and from their location, if they drove too fast, ran any stoplights, and, if they were in New York, they could use facial recognition software to track them walking down the street via the overhead mounted cameras.
Maybe with all that level of intrusion it’s just paranoid to worry about giving up my location to any thug with a laptop. Of course just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re really not after me. I value my privacy please.