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    Christian Science Monitor: Cellphone tracking services: Friend finder or Big Brother?

    The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting story about location privacy. (Note that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has praised Google Latitude and Loopt and their approaches to protecting location privacy.)

    Loopt, has more than 1 million users and is one of the most popular services to allow people to track their friends via their smart phones. And with more cellphones now equipped with GPS, other services such as Google Latitude are collecting location data from scores of users and broadcasting that information through phone networks or the Internet.

    Such tracking services offer a great way for people stay connected – and can be a boon for parents – but their proliferation also has privacy advocates biting their nails. As companies forge into largely uncharted areas of tracking and recording customer locations, many worry that consumers won’t be able to ensure that their private information – such as their whereabouts on a given day – is being safeguarded, especially from advertisers.

    “How are we going to get all the benefits that come from doing geo-location without sacrificing people’s privacy?” asks Lauren Gelman, executive director of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society (CIS).

    Ms. Gelman and other privacy experts caution that when users allow companies to track their locations, third parties – such as the government, litigants, and advertisers – can potentially tap into that data. “If you have the information, someone is going to come asking for it.”

    In other words, could your iPhone or BlackBerry be used to spy on you? Will your spouse or employer know where you are even when you don’t want them to? […]

    Congress is taking interest in the growth in mobile tracking – and the growth in all sorts of data tracking that’s happening online – and what it means for consumer privacy. […]

    “The laws are always years behind technology, says Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. “These location-tracking services have been available since about 2005 and the laws haven’t caught up with the technology.”

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