Location based social networking apps and sites such as Gowalla, Foursquare and Google Lattitude allow the tracking of an individuals location via mobile communication devices. This augmented information has the potential to be very valuable by profiling and targeting consumer behaviour, but to me also raises questions about privacy and data protection that have yet to be answered. I have had a quick read of the rerespective privacy policies.
"To provide Gowalla, we collect, maintain, use, and display your personal data and the geographic location of your mobile device (we call this location fix of your mobile device “location information”)."
"While the Service does allow you to note your location at restaurants, bars, stores (and so) throughout your community, at no time does Foursquare ask you to provide your home address. You should be aware that if you or your friends add your home as a new venue in the Service database and that information is published on the Service (for example, via a user checking in to that home venue), that information may be published by third parties without our control."
So it seems that certain personal information can be published without control via privacy settings. Does this breach the Human Rights Act Art 8 which 'provides a right to respect for one's "private and family life, his home and his correspondence. (Ref Wikipedia)".
The main question I want to pose is should users of these sites have a reasonable expectation of privacy? My own thinking is that we are undergoing a cultural shift in attitudes towards data protection and privacy with the understanding that social network services have to be paid for by the users supplying valuable data about themselves that the operators can then levergae. Users making decision that the benefit to them of engaging outweighs their concerns about their data being used.
If these location driven service providers make it clear to me when my information is collected and used and how it might not be controllable then I can make an informed decision as to whether I opt in and participate. That said I wonder how may people read the privacy policies before signing up.
The moral of the story is to think carefully about privacy settings, privacy issues and (like life in general )who your friends are.
It is of course a matter of fine balance between making it simple to sign up and giving clear information on privacy and data protection that people of all ages can digest.
Watch this space for the first privacy story to break.