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They know where you are

How can we keep our personal location private in a society where GPS-enabled devices and internet-connected computing is ubiquitous? That is the question posed in the current issue of the International Journal of Electronic Business by a computing and legal specialist in Belgium.

Mobile phones, personal digital assistants, Wi-Fi hotspots, web-connected mp3 players, SatNav devices, even washing machines that connect to the internet-…the list of gadgets with an inbuilt computer continues to grow.

With this growth, the idea of ubiquitous computing will soon become a reality. But, Maya Gadzheva of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Law and ICT, at the Catholic University of Leuven, in Belgium, warns that we should take care of our privacy.

It is now possible to obtain the precise geographical location of any mobile phone user at any time, explains Gadzheva. However, she points out that with the advent of internet-capable devices and global positioning systems (GPS) the number and type of mobile devices that can reveal an individual's whereabouts is increasing rapidly. This will not necessarily be destructive, but it does require consideration in terms of the legal and societal implications.

GPS-enabled devices offer us many benefits. The most obvious application is providing map and route information to drivers and others. Such devices can also offer restaurant, theatre, and other entertainment recommendations based on your whereabouts. They can allow parents to keep track of their children for the sake of safety. They can track stolen goods and help in their retrieval. They can also be the enabler in networked games and events.

Researchers active in the area of ubiquitous computing envisage a society where every user will interact with hundreds or thousands of embedded or mobile computing devices. These devices will, and do, perform actions based on the context of their users and location information.

According to Gadzheva there is a serious downside to ubiquitous computing that has to be taken into account as society begins to use such devices and systems more widely. "Ubiquitous access to information anywhere and anytime and the ever faster, smaller and omnipresent computing devices will enable the constant collection and transmission of personal data without it being apparent to the user." This, she says, means that maintaining privacy in a future ubiquitous computing society will become increasingly complex if not impossible.

"The fact that the citizens are aware of their rights and that they use them is one of the most vital conditions to ensure effective privacy protection," she says. "What is still missing is a convincing approach for the development of ubiquitous computing environment that could guarantee acceptable levels of personal privacy in the future."

Albert Ang | alfa
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