ICO Warns Of Location Privacy Issues

The ICO used a speech this week to warn that attention must be paid to individual’s location privacy

The Information Commissioner Office (ICO) has warned that there needs to be consideration paid to the issue of location privacy, as more and more smartphones and devices are now embedded with positioning technology such as GPS chips.

The warning came from Jonathan Bamford, the ICO’s head of strategic liaison, who was speaking at the Fine Balance conference on Monday, which discussed issues surrounding location and cyber privacy in the Digital Age.

Unaware Users

“The sheer scale of technological change and the ingenuity with which people are using location-based service data feeds means we are always playing catch-up,” he was quoted as saying in a number of media reports.

And Bamford highlighted how many users are unaware of how their devices operates, and this means that they losing the ability to control the data on the movements and location.

“The ubiquitous nature of the devices you carry around that provide data directly to organisations without users being aware means you’ve lost the clear relationship where it’s the users’ choice over which data they provide,” he reportedly said.

He cited the fact the exmaple of a user with a smartphone running an app, but unknown to the user the app is transmitting data on its location, and hence the location of the user.

“Most human activities online now have a location aspect, which bring both opportunities and significant risks for everyone,” Bamford said.

Regulatory Intervention?

And he reportedly warned that regulators may have to take action on the matter, although that is only part of the solution.

“Privacy must be built into new location-based services from first principles, not thought of as a last-minute add-on,” he reportedly said.

He then urged location-based service providers to adopt this proactive approach so they can survive as customers’ become increasingly aware of how this location data is being used.

Location Issues

The issue of location privacy it seems is slowly starting to reach the public conciousness.

Last month for example Google said it would offer an opt-out to users who object to having information from their wireless access point included in its location database software.

And in April, Apple ran into controversy over a tracking feature in Apple’s iOS 4. GPS mobile applications on Android have also been targeted by cyber criminals, using a Trojan that enables third parties to secretly track the location of the user.

And in September a lawsuit in the US alleged that Microsoft is collecting geo-location data from Windows Phone 7 users who decline to share their data.

But conversely many people are highly reliant on location technology such as GPS systems.

In March, a report by the Royal Academy of Engineering warned that people in the UK have become overly reliant on satellite navigation systems  such as GPS, making the technology a prime target for criminals intent on disrupting the country’s infrastructure.