Home EFF Calls on Companies to Encrypt Location-Based Data

EFF Calls on Companies to Encrypt Location-Based Data

The reason why Steven Seagal’s 80’s movies lack relevance for modern day audiences is because if a group of creepy, rogue mercenaries were to abduct us now, we’d be able to ping 10 nearby friends for backup. If you’re like us, you’re using one or more location-based services that rely on GPS data, phone signal strength or visibility in relation to nearby wireless networks. In other words, through Twitter, Loopt, Brightkite, Foursquare or Google Latitude, your location is sitting in a database. Nonetheless, according to a recent report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, you shouldn’t have to forgo your locational privacy to find nearby friends or restaurants.

Locational privacy refers to the expectation that as regular citizens our whereabouts are not being monitored. We’ve all heard of the horror stories about illegal wiretapping and citizen surveillance, but what about the services we opt into? According to the report “On Locational Privacy, and How to Avoid Losing it Forever”, it’s fairly easy to use cryptographic techniques to ensure your anonymity. Rather than revealing a mobile device’s owner to service providers, one way to ensure anonymity is for a mobile device to ping services using a cryptographic proof-of-identity. A University of Waterloo report entitled, “Louis, Lester and Pierre: Three Protocols for Location Privacy” provides a deeper look at identity masking techniques.

This is an important subject for those companies looking to enter into the geo-locational space. Groups that encrypt their data are taking pains to reduce the threat of identity theft, illegal surveillance or for data to be subpoenaed by a court. These companies will be rewarded with customer loyalty when the unfortunate time comes for one or all three of the above scenarios.

Those critical of encryption might suggest that law-abiding citizens have nothing to hide, but that simply isn’t true. What if you’re in alcoholics anonymous? Or you’ve simply spent the night at a person’s house? And honestly, do you really want your running club to see how often you eat at Arby’s? Encryption allows us to ping our friends while maintaining an air of mystique, and at the end of the day, the companies that care about their customers, keep them.

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