Daily Archives: 2009-05-19

Location privacy

I was recently asked for a brief (4-page) invited paper for a forthcoming special issue of the ACM SIGSPATIAL on privacy and security of location-based systems, so I wrote Foot-driven computing: our first glimpse of location privacy issues.

In 1989 at ORL we developed the Active Badge, the first indoor location system: an infrared transmitter worn by personnel that allowed you to tell which room the wearer was in. Every press and TV reporter who visited our lab worried about the intrusiveness of this technology; yet, today, all those people happily carry mobile phones through which they can be tracked anywhere they go. The significance of the Active Badge project was to give us a head start of a few years during which to think about location privacy before it affected hundreds of millions of people. (There is more on our early ubiquitous computing work at ORL in this free excerpt from my book.)
The ORL Active Badge

Location privacy is a hard problem to solve, first because ordinary people don’t seem to actually care, and second because there is a misalignment of incentives: those who could do the most to address the problem are the least affected and the least concerned about it. But we have a responsibility to address it, in the same way that designers of new vehicles have a responsibility to address the pollution and energy consumption issue.