To geo-tag or not to geo-tag

In an interview Michalis Mavis voices concern about identity management on-line and it certainly is an issue that hasn’t been discussed enough. Personally I find it scary, but also realise that if I as a PR and communications practitioner wants to be found there is a certain need for me to give out information on myself. But I wonder: is it necessary to “check in” every time I stop at a street corner? Do I have to be found every second of the day? Must I allow my smart phone to let anyone with the necessary technical competence find where I am with a few simple clicks?

One simple step that we often tend to not think about is based on old fashion common sense. Of primary concern is protecting your personally identifying information. Use your judgement about what you post about yourself on Internet sites. When any site requests information about you, ask these questions:

  •  Who is asking?
  •  What information are they asking for?
  • Why do they need it?

Think about the amount and detail of information being requested. Does it correspond to what you think is needed to make a purchase, register for a new service, or conduct other business? Be sure you know why the information is being requested and how it will be used.

Other simple ways to keep your privacy is to Clam Up ‑ If a site requires registration, fill in only the required fields. Look closely for at any check boxes relating to sharing your information — depending on how they’re worded, you’ll need to check or un-check the box to deny sharing permission. If the registration isn’t part of an important ongoing business relationship, consider filling the required fields with, shall we say, truth-challenged data. Or get ready-made registration information from BugMeNot.

To be sure that you are surfing anonymously and really protect your on-line information the use of a solution like Relakks could help.

When it comes to location-based services, you need to think about the layers of information you leave on-line. As you use more on-line services, it becomes easier for people to connect the dots on your activities, which could lead to harm. Be aware of the location privacy settings on your phone, social networking sites, and the applications you use. For many people, social networking sites link everything together. Limit who you add to your social network location services, and choose not to make your location data publicly available or searchable. Only trusted friends should know your location.

There are a number of ideas to limit your exposure e.g. don’t “check in” on location-based social networking sites from home, or a friend’s house, or anywhere you might put others at risk. Don’t geo-tag photos of your house or your children. Make sure you don’t include GPS coordinates in your tweets, blogs or social networking accounts. In fact, think about disabling geo-tagging until you specifically need it. If you have contacts you don’t fully know or trust, it’s time to do a purge.

From a technical point of view – read developers – a few pointers: applications must not override or circumvent a user’s choice to disable location services on the mobile device. The application should also provide settings that allow the user to enable and disable applications access to and use of location. If the application publishes or makes available location data obtained from any other service or person, (including ad networks), application must enable a method to obtain opt-in consent. Applications must request location and retain and use location data only as necessary to deliver the location-aware features application provides to users. A privacy policy must be made available to users informing them about how location data is used and disclosed, and the controls users have over use and sharing of location data. Any application must adopt measures to protect against unauthorized access to, use and disclosure of location data.

As very often much of our interactions with others boil down to our own common sense e.g. I only accept friend requests on Facebook from people I know IRL, anyone wanting to connect with me on LinkedIn have to have a complete profile – or at least a photo for me to accept them. After all, with LinkedIn I don’t only connect with a new business contact – that person also gets access to my 500+ contacts and I feel have a responsibility towards them as well.

These self-imposed constraints might in some areas work against me. But then again it provides me with a high sense of trust and security and then it can’t all be wrong. Can it?

Article first published as To geo-tag, or not to geo-tag on Technorati.

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