Privacy Fears Intensified by Tech That Knows Where You Are

Jennifer Cutraro
for National Geographic News
October 20, 2006

Part of the Digital Places Special News Series
More Digital Places Stories>>

It's 10 p.m. Does your laptop know where you are?

As location-based technology advances, your computer, cell phone, and other mobile devices may soon be able to pinpoint and transmit your exact location as you travel.

And developers hope that an emerging network dubbed the geospatial web will tie these devices together to create a unique new user experience.

People tapped into this new web will be able to communicate instantly with nearby users, participate in digital community activities, and get advertising for businesses that are literally around the corner.

But even in its infancy, the concept of an electronic network that can track and communicate a person's every move is raising a host of questions about user privacy.

Can people feel safe in their own backyards when real-time satellite imagery is being collected from overhead? Will improved global positioning systems (GPS) in cell phones make it easier for a criminal to stalk a victim?

Privacy advocates say questions like these don't yet have clear answers.

"I think we're still wrestling with the issue of how we respect an expectation of privacy when technology has made so much of the world available to us," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington, D.C.

Unwritten Laws

In many countries privacy law hasn't caught up with emerging technologies, says Lauren Gelman, assistant director of the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society in Stanford, California.

"Data privacy laws in the U.S. are subject-matter specific," Gelman said.

Continued on Next Page >>


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