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Are mobile phones publicizing your confidential location?

With the advent of built-in GPS and location tracking for modern mobile phones, help lines that have confidential locations should be vigilant that people visiting your location not unwittingly share it’s coordinates with the outside world. In the past, even with these capabilities, a person would have to explicitly look up this information on their mobile phone to share it with others, or it was only accessible by emergency systems (like 911 in North America). But many applications on today’s smart phones have access to this location data and may transmit it to web sites and social networks without your knowledge. For example, Twitter just enabled your “tweets” to be tagged with location data, and Facebook is said to be planning to do so too. Cameras in phones now often automatically include latitude/longitude coordinates in picture files. And many other applications, like Google Maps and Search, Foursquare and plenty of others, have access to (and regularly transmit) location coordinates as part of their services. While these are exciting capabilities and enable the possibility of powerful new uses for mobile phones (which iCarol plans to carefully utilize in the future), non-profit help lines should be concerned if you want to protect information about the location of your operations. And according to PrivacyRights.org*: Cell phone applications (apps) like Loopt and Google Latitude allow friends to track each other’s location. The applications allow the user to specify who can track the user’s location. Google allows users to limit the tracking to a city-level location only. Both Google and Loopt say they do not store historical locations, only your last location. Users of location tracking services should be aware that current privacy protections can be changed by the providers at any time. These are company policies, not legal requirements. Of course it is up to you to devise whatever policies and training you feel are necessary to continue to protect your confidential location, but at a minimum you may want to ask visitors to either turn off GPS receivers in their phones, and/or disable location tagging from any of their phone’s applications that may use it.    


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