Microsoft offers up tips, stats on location privacy

Sharing your location has always carried some risk, but a recent survey conducted by Microsoft shows that less than half of the sample group had ever used it.

There are some do's and don'ts with location sharing. Things like not publicly posting geo-tagged photos of gold bricks near open windows, or alerting the world to your extended absence are the more obvious ones. But not everyone knows these things, which is why Microsoft is sharing some tips of its own based on research it commissioned around location based services.

The 1,500-person survey, which was conducted back in December of last year, involved people in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Japan, and Germany, and will be discussed by Microsoft's Chief Privacy Officer Brendon Lynch during a panel discussion tonight at San Francisco's Churchill Club. The survey is also a larger part of Data Privacy Day, which takes place this Friday.

In a post on the company's Microsoft on the Issues blog, Lynch wrote that only 51 percent of the survey's respondents had used a location-based service before, but that 94 percent of that group found them "valuable."

Microsoft's location privacy infographic (click to enlarge)
Microsoft's location privacy infographic (click to enlarge) Microsoft

Though the key concern among those who were surveyed seemed to be consent, with 84 percent saying that they were worried about services that would share location without asking. Fou percent said they'd feel better about location based services "if they could easily and clearly manage who sees their location information." To that end, Lynch said that customer notifications and consent, along with "user-friendly privacy controls" were part of the company's privacy standards.

In any case, Microsoft has laid out some platform-agnostic guidelines to limit risk when sharing location:

Pay close attention to the location privacy settings on phones, social networking sites and online applications.

Don't 'check in' on location-based social networking sites from home, and don't include GPS coordinates in tweets, blogs or social networking accounts.

Limit who you add to your social network location services, and do not make your location data publicly available or searchable.

Don't geo-tag photos of your house or your children. In fact, it's best to disable geo-tagging until you specifically need it.

Only trusted friends should know your location. If you have contacts you don't fully know or trust, it's time to do a purge.

Some of these things are obviously easier said than done. What's arguably made it more difficult is that the number of Web services that make use of user location and share that information has increased dramatically, as have their popularity. And it's not just check-in services like Foursquare and Gowalla. It's extended to social networks like Twitter and Facebook, as well as with photo sharing tools like Picplz, that add location as part of shared content or status updates.

Last year, a site called Please Rob Me famously cropped up that would aggregate geo-tagged check-ins from various check-in services and post them in a large feed in order to draw attention to the dangers of location sharing. The site has since shut its doors, saying that it was "satisfied" with the attention it had received. Though if Microsoft's survey data is any indication, there's still a large group of people that have never heard of the problem the site was trying to solve.

Related: Senator proposes mobile-privacy legislation

 

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