Why location privacy is important

Apple, Google, Facebook and others all want to track your location. Should you let them? Read this before deciding.

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Location, location, location.

The three most important keys to retail success are also the most important ones to your privacy in the 21st century. Which is why you should be keeping a watchful eye on all those big corporations that are keeping a watchful eye on you -- like Google, Twitter, Facebook, AT&T, Verizon, and Apple, to name a few.

All of these companies have recently added (or are on the verge of adding) location-centric services. Twitter can now not only tell what city I'm in, but what neighborhood (and I don't live in a very big place). Apple just made headlines thanks to its new iPhone privacy policy, which as the Los Angeles Times notes, lets it collect

"...the "precise," "real-time geographic location" of its users' iPhones, iPads and computers.

In an updated version of its privacy policy, the company added a paragraph noting that once users agree, Apple and unspecified "partners and licensees" may collect and store user location data.

When users attempt to download apps or media from the iTunes store, they are prompted to agree to the new terms and conditions. Until they agree, they cannot download anything through the store."

Gowalla, FourSquare, Loopt, and all the others that let people check in with their locations or use their handset's GPS to connect with their peeps are just acquisitions waiting to happen. I predict within two years the small fry will be swallowed up by the big fish or driven out of business. (Not that my crystal ball is 100 percent accurate -- it's closer to a Magic 8-Ball. But just you wait and see.)

Now, before I go all Big Brother on you, here are a few caveats. Most of this location tracking is voluntary. I don't have to let Twitter know where I'm tweeting from or check in obsessively with my peeps on FourSquare. And much of the data gathering, like Apple's with the iPhone, is done anonymously (at least in theory -- I'm sure if Apple can deliver a specific ad to your cell phone based on your location it can ID you if it really needs to).

Why should you care? Well there are a few reasons. One is whether you welcome the idea of getting ads sent to you based on your location in meatspace (ie, real life) as opposed to virtual space. That's pretty minor. Apple will let you opt out of targeted ads (though not out of location tracking). Many people may even find targeted ads a convenience.

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