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Privacy lost: These phones can find you
Written by Daniel   
Tuesday, 23 October 2007 10:16
Privacy lost: These phones can find you
By Laura M. Holson
The New York Times
Published: October 23, 2007, 7:18 AM PDT

Two new questions arise, courtesy of the latest advancement in cell phone technology: do you want your friends, family, or colleagues to know where you are at any given time? And do you want to know where they are?
Obvious benefits come to mind. Parents can take advantage of the Global Positioning System chips embedded in many cell phones to track the whereabouts of their phone-toting children.
And for teenagers and twentysomethings, who are fond of sharing their comings and goings on the Internet, youth-oriented services like Loopt and Buddy Beacon are a natural next step.

Sam Altman, the 22-year-old co-founder of Loopt, said he came up with the idea in early 2005 when he walked out of a lecture hall at Stanford.

"Two hundred students all pulled out their cell phones, called someone and said, 'Where are you?'" he said. "People want to connect."

But such services point to a new truth of modern life: if GPS made it harder to get lost, new cell phone services are now making it harder to hide.

"There are massive changes going on in society, particularly among young people who feel comfortable sharing information in a digital society," said Kevin Bankston, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation based in San Francisco.

"We seem to be getting into a period where people are closely watching each other," he said. "There are privacy risks we haven’t begun to grapple with."

But the practical applications outweigh the worries for some converts.

Kyna Fong, a 24-year-old Stanford graduate student, uses Loopt, offered by Sprint Nextel. For $2.99 a month, she can see the location of friends who also have the service, represented by dots on a map on her phone, with labels identifying their names. They can also see where she is.

One night last summer she noticed on Loopt that friends she was meeting for dinner were 40 miles away, and would be late. Instead of waiting, Fong arranged her schedule to arrive when they did. "People don't have to ask 'Where are you?'" she said.

When access is unwelcome
Fong can control whom she shares the service with, and if at any point she wants privacy, Fong can block access. Some people are not invited to join--like her mother.

"I don't know if I'd want my mom knowing where I was all the time," she said.

Some situations are not so clear-cut. What if a spouse wants some time alone and turns off the service? Why on earth, their better half may ask, are they doing that?

What if a boss asks an employee to use the service?... More    Comment in the Forums

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