Will Big Brother track you by cell phone?

By Cameron Crouch, PC World |  Hardware

Thanks to car PCs and Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers in wireless phones
and handhelds, location services soon will eagerly offer roadside assistance,
traffic updates, and route planning as well as shopping and services guides. But
what will these services do with the information they gather on your habits and
whereabouts?

These major issues of privacy and security must be addressed for consumers
to adopt these services, agree industry vendors, who are gathered here for the
L-Commerce 2001 conference. Participants include location technology vendors,
wireless carriers, and consumer rights advocates. But for the consumer, protecting
your personal information also means addressing how and when government agencies,
such as law enforcement and courts, can obtain such information from third parties
such as service providers.

Location-tracking draws near

Starting this fall, Sprint PCS and other wireless carriers expect to roll out
location services, thanks to GPS technology built into new phone chip sets,
says Joseph Averkamp, senior director for the Sprint PCS automotive telematics
business. "Early services will be traffic information, route, and roadside
assistance," Averkamp says.

One company, Airbiquity, provides a GPS accessory that fits onto most Nokia
phones. It replaces the standard battery pack with one containing a GPS receiver.

Airbiquity expects to partner with the likes of AAA or JD Power Car Club, which
would offer the accessory to customers, says Dan Allen, president and chief
executive officer of Airbiquity. Users of the GPS accessory can reach a call
center that provides mapping software, push a button to send their location
information, and get directions or assistance.

Advertisers are eager to take advantage of location services to alert you when
you pass near a store that might be of interest. They call the tactic mobile
commerce or "m-commerce."

While such services are likely, Sprint PCS's Averkamp acknowledges that consumers
may not really want to see ads for McDonalds as they drive by the Golden Arches.
However, Sprint PCS is clearly evaluating such services, although emphasizing
their usefulness and availability on customer request.

Addressing consumer privacy concerns

"Consumers won't use systems they don't trust," says Alan Davidson,
associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "Location
services monitor movement and habits, something many consumers may not want
known."

Consumer privacy issues fall into two categories: commercial and government,
Davidson notes. Commercial privacy centers on how carriers and service providers
use your information about your whereabouts, and how they alert you of their
use.

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