The Loopt app: A loopy privacy dilema

The privacy considerations of this iPhone 3G application

Loopt has an appealing application that allows you to track your friends and allows them to track you on a graphic map. It's kind of like a GPS-sonar radar that I've just discovered on the iPhone 3G. But, is this application really more like an electronic leash? Will your significant other track you? Will moms and dads track their children this year? Yes, Loopt has an extensive privacy policy that discourages/prohibits kids under 14 years old from using the service, but even one of my most 'public' friends (both online and in off-line) was actually hesitant about installing Loopt on his iPhone 3G. Disclosing your location to a third-party seemed to bother him greatly. The thought is that if you're near a store that is having a special you may get an SMS-text bulletin or coupon. The ultimate direct-marketer's dream once Loopt obtains some demographic information. Your movement patterns are one thing, but add-in your physical location, shopping patterns, travel patterns... You've become a human cookie.

To me, it's not necessarily the third-parties I'd be concerned about, but would disclosing your location to first-parties, i.e. your friends and family, be the best thing? We are all entitled to privacy of course. (Well, penumbras of privacy under the Constitution). Some choose to have Dick Cheney-like undisclosed location privacy, while others have Martha Stewart ankle-tracker privacy. But, balancing privacy requires takes a certain amount of prudence (or sanity perhaps) that will evolve as the line between public and private blurs even more. At least, at this point, Loopt allows you to opt out and only updates your location when the application is launched. What happens then you can't opt out any more? That'll throw all of us for a loop. (Sorry for the pun).

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About the author

    Kevin Ho is an attorney living in San Francisco. He's from Iowa originally where he got his first Atari computer when he was little and remembers using the Apple IIGS. He is PC-user but secretly a Mac person in the closet as evidenced by many an iPod cluttering his desk drawers. He'll be writing about his experience with the iPhone. Disclosure.

     

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