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Technologies that pinpoint our locations are improving in accuracy and growing in prevalence, provoking new conversations about what constitutes personal data.

The uses of geo-location services are many--advertising, fraud control, compliance, and security--and will continue to multiply. ABI Research projects the location-based services market will be a $13.3 billion industry by 2013, meaning these conversations will grow in numbers and urgency in the coming months.

Once the mainstay of house arrests and wanderlust pets, the ways in which we can be located today have become more diverse, and our location at a given moment has lately become the business of many. This begs the question: does our physical location identify us? So many of our laws were written to accommodate personal information in its more common form--name, address, telephone number, for example--should we add location data to the list of personal identifiers?

And, if our locations are ultimately deemed personal data, should we care? Do we need to be protected from technologies that find us via our Internet IP address? Our cell phone? A closed-circuit television camera? Or is privacy only compromised if the data is retained and/or misused?

This is a conversation we hear repeatedly in other privacy-sensitive areas: do the benefits of technology x outweigh the potential for privacy abuses? Surveillance cameras in public places have helped solve murders and kidnappings in some cases. Should that stamp out fears of a potential surveillance society? Programs like Street View could make a stalker's aim easier, but does that small potential outweigh the overall benefits such a technology provides?

In this issue of Inside 1to1: Privacy, we look at some of these technologies--their benefits and their real or perceived privacy consequences.

What do you think? Is our location data personal information? Write to us and let us know: publications@privacyassociation.org.

J. Trevor Hughes, CIPP

Executive Director, IAPP


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