June 28, 2011, 4:34 PM — When it comes to privacy worries, the tech industry has a message for consumers: It's in your hands.
Representatives from companies such as Verizon, Google, Facebook and Foursquare Labs convened at the Federal Communications Commission's headquarters to try to allay privacy concerns about location-based services. At issue was whether consumers using location-based services (LBS) on their computers or mobile devices had enough built-in protections available to keep their personal data private while still reaping the benefits that LBS bring.
The companies' answer, unsurprisingly, was yes.
Today's hearing came as big-name tech companies such as Facebook and Google have come under fire from regulators and law enforcement officials over various concerns regarding user privacy. Earlier this month, for instance, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen wrote Facebook a letter expressing worry over its "Tag Suggestions" facial recognition software that does not have an opt-in feature that specifically requires user consent before being potentially tagged by others.
"The lack of an opt-in process for Facebook users is troubling because unknowing consumers may have their photos tagged and matched using facial recognition software without their express consent, potentially exposing them to unwelcome attention and loss of privacy," Jepsen said recently.
But the companies at the panel went out of their way to tout the myriad options that users have for protecting their privacy and said that many of the features on their products required active consumer consent in order to function. Tim Sparapani, the director of public policy for Facebook, said that his company has been adding features designed to give users more control over whether others can tag them in certain pictures of locations.
"On Facebook, the hallmark of privacy is user control," he said. "We allow people to delete any check-ins they don't want to be made public. So if someone tags you at a place and you say, 'I don't want people to know I was at that bar,' or maybe, 'I shouldn't have taken that coffee break because my boss could find out about it,' you can then untag it."
Sparapani also said that every company that offered location-based services should "give people the opportunity to share what they want, when they want and with whomever they want" without fear that unwanted viewers might be looking at it.