Thoughts on the nature of location privacy (Duckham and Kulik, 2006)

Dukham and Kulik’s (2006) article on location privacy and location-aware computing provides a comprehensive overview of issues regarding location privacy and the variety of strategies that can be used to protect this privacy. In particular, I found the authors’ delineation and descriptions of privacy protection strategies particularly fascinating.

The first interesting question that this article brings up for me is whether or not we have the right to location privacy, and how closely this privacy should be protected. As a subset of informational privacy, location privacy is a relatively recent phenomenon that has become relevant as our lives are increasingly dominated by location-based services and location-aware computing. There are an undeniable number of benefits that can come when we are open about sharing out location (eg. personalized directions, awareness of our friends’ locations). While on the surface, our location may not seem like much to share, there are an incredible number of inferences that can be made about us based on our current and past locations. As the authors mention, location is a unique type of personal information in that it can be used to infer identity. Anonymity and pseudo-anonymity is thus much more difficult to maintain. Furthermore, our location patterns can also be used to infer personal characteristics as specific as our political views and the state of our health. Information such as this is incredibly personal and, I believe, should be very closely protected.

However, I think the tension between privacy and openness is interesting to explore. We often think of both as desirable, but these concepts are largely in opposition with each other. In the case of government, for example, we want our leaders to be informed about the populations that they are making decisions for. We also want our governments to be transparent about the information that informs the decisions being made. How can governments practice open and informed decision making while also maintaining the informational privacy of citizens?

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