Future of privacy

With all the recent privacy concerns surrounding the expansion of CCTV or airport body scanners, one might think society is united in its stance against personal intrusion.

For anyone who owns a mobile phone or subscribes to Facebook or Twitter, it is hard not to notice a growing trend of people willingly surrendering their privacy.

It started with status updates and tweets, which offer anyone the opportunity to eavesdrop on the inner dialogue of any of their Facebook friends or the Twitter members they follow. Now, more and more social networking users feel the need to reveal not only their thoughts but also their exact location in real time. This is enabled by mobile services such as Google’s Latitude, which beam the location of users to a map that is visible to a network of friends. The service relies on activating the GPS location features on a mobile phone.

Surprisingly many do not consider this as TMI (that’s ’too much information’ in net-speak, for the uninitiated). Vic Gundotra, Google vice president of engineering, announced at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona last year that his company had seen ‘more than a million’ mobile subscribers sign up for the Latitude service in the first week from its launch in February 2009.

Other mobile location-revealing services, such as Foursquare, take a slightly different approach. After signing into the Foursqaure application on their phones, users are presented with a list of nearby shops, restaurants, bars and other listed businesses. They then can select their location by ‘checking in,’ which then sends alerts to friends using the service or updates a user’s Facebook status.

The trend is catching on elsewhere. Yelp, the user review and recommendation site for restaurants, shops and other services, has enabled a ‘check-in’ feature for its iPhone App. There has also been speculation over the past few months that Facebook will soon be introducing location features.

There is an obvious large demand for these features, which leads me to wonder where have all those privacy conservationists gone. Is it true that members of our society are now willing to give up their privacy for a few techno-fripperies? We look forward to hearing your comments.

Siobhan Wagner

Chief reporter