Geo-privacy (an idea)

“Geo-fencing” refers to a program that enables (or disables) some function based on physical location.

“Privacy” is something we tell people we care about but don’t really defend against violation.

It’s a fact that many mobile phone apps track our location to harvest and sell our geo-data to anyone.

(It’s also fact that mobile phone companies sell this data in some places, and that some stores track us via bluetooth pings. I’m not talking about these dubious practices here.)

So I think mobile phone operating systems (i.e., Android or iOS) should allow you to “geo-private” yourself within x km of various places you specify. Then geo-data is not collected (and thus not available) to any and all apps on your phone.

Example: I live in Amsterdam. I tell my phone to not track me within 15 km of my home. That, more or less, turns off all tracking while I am in the city, which is fine by me.

This system will resotre power to those whose data is being harvested and sold: you and me.

My one-handed conclusion is that mobile phone manufacturers/operating system owners should make it easy for us to protect our privacy.

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Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

2 thoughts on “Geo-privacy (an idea)”

  1. If the data’s available to e.g., Google, will they abuse it? For example, I love that Google Maps is very good at knowing how fast traffic is flowing in front of me. It does this by monitoring the movement of phones *all the time*. Maps works with anonymous data, and I’m happy for Google to have that, but how do I know that Google will keep it anonymous? Even if the data is anonymous, Google (or someone they sell the data to) can determine it’s me when they see me pull into my home every day.
    Perhaps anonymous data combined with a blobby (randomly inexact) geo fence around my home.

    1. Good point Bruce, but that’s also my quibble: who owns your data? I like that I can see congestion via Google Maps, but maybe I’d prefer to NOT share my data with Google — unless they pay me — which would lower the quality of traffic data. Now we have a world where the data are sparse/inaccurate b/c people value privacy over (low) payment or a world where google (or users) pay for traffic data. I think that world is better than the current one of “we take your data and sell it for $$ and you get “free” traffic data.”

      So it’s not about the function of data, but who owns it and who pays for it…

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