London, UK: The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) voiced concerns over the growing pervasiveness of location-based services (LBS) and the lack of end user awareness about how much data these systems transmit. Speaking at the A Fine Balance – Location and Cyber Privacy in the Digital Age conference, Jonathan Bamford, Head of strategic liaison at the data protection watchdog, said the speed of development in this sector leaves regulators struggling to ensure that the necessary safeguards are in place.
“The sheer scale of technological change and the ingenuity with which people are using LBS data feeds means we are always playing catch-up,” he said at the event in London. Bamford explained that this growth is creating a lack of awareness as to how devices operate, and that end users are losing the ability to control the data that is sent on their movements.
“For example, I have a mobile device and someone has created an app, but it is completely unknown to me that it’s sending data on where that device is: it might not cause terrible things to happen to me but it’s unknown to me.”
According to a report published in Computer World, the ICO is looking to extend its audit capabilities to the private sector in light of growing concerns over the collection and use of location-based data by businesses. Under the Data Protection Act (DPA) 1998, the ICO currently has the power to inspect government organisations it suspects to be not compliant with the law, with or without their permission.
Also speaking at the event was Richard Hollis, from US group the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, who warned that the development of IPv6 networks could open up even more data on individuals to large companies. The rollout of IPv6 networks will create over 340 trillion unique addresses, and is expected to usher in the next-generation of the internet’s development by enabling almost any object to be connected.
Hollis observed that the value of location-based data to businesses is so great that soon users will not be able to opt out. Hollis explained that examples of how companies are using geo-location data to increase revenue and reduce costs include O2 and Virgin Media. O2 is hoping to increase its revenue through direct contextually-relevant marketing, while Virgin Media manages its engineers more efficiently using a mobile workforce management system from TOA Technologies that gives it greater visibility of its workers, while offering customers more accurate customer appointment windows.
To illustrate how businesses value location-based data, Hollis revealed how he had gone to five banks to ask for a bank card without an RFID chip in it – only to find that none of the five could offer it.
“Geo-location data equals cash. It is even more valuable than credit card information,” he stressed.