Privacy vs. High Granularity in Location-aware Services: Mutually Exclusive Entities?

By 20th August 2008 No Comments
Kieran Sullivan
Privacy vs. High Granularity in Location-aware Services: Mutually Exclusive Entities?
9th Institutes of Technology Science & Computing Research Colloquium (ITSCRC05)
Ubiquitous computing is growing and emerging as an increasingly significant part of our everyday lives. It offers us the chance to work and interact with others in a safer and more efficient manner. Context awareness – knowledgeable of a user’s surrounding environment, used to characterise the situation of the user – will play a substantial role in achieving this. In doing so however location-tracking technology is used, which presents many privacy anxieties that require serious consideration. Increasing the accuracy of a location-tracking system will be made possible by the introduction of a redundant positioning architecture [1], conversely, increasing user privacy concerns. If the position of an individual is more precisely defined, then the location-based services that are offered to him can become more distinguished and hence more attractive. This would imply that a greater intrusion into people’s privacy is required. It seems, then, that the more information about a user’s location that is available the greater the range of services that become accessible to him. Conversely, the more discrete he wishes to remain in regard to his exact position the less he can benefit from the opportunities offered by pervasive computing. Thus, a conflict evidently exists: on the one hand we want to remain inconspicuous from “Big Brother”, while on the other we want to avail of the useful services and applications he can provide us with. Ideally, of course, we would like to have the best of both worlds. The issue of privacy holds the potential to induce the most controversy in the realm of ubiquitous computing. Any technological advance that can track and locate an individual to within one metre of his actual position offers an immediate advantage to any would-be attacker. It is not just a person’s need to feel safe from attack however that raises questions in regard to invasions on his privacy. He may view his privacy as a utility, enabling him to remain free from intrusion by unsolicited phone calls or e-mails. Alternatively privacy may also act as an instrument of empowerment for an individual, aiming to give people the power to control the publication and distribution of information about themselves. A recurring discussion surrounding this logic revolves around the question of whether personal information should be seen as private property (which would entail the right to sell all or part of it as the owner sees fit) or as intellectual property (which would entitle the owner to certain inalienable rights, preventing him for example from selling the rights to his own name to anybody else) [2]. Thus, even a description of what an individual’s privacy comprises is a multi-faceted subject. A system architecture that can dynamically adjust its accuracy levels to better accommodate the technological and privacy needs of users would offer much reassurance to them. This proposal examines current data reduction and fusion methodologies with a view to increasing location accuracy whilst protecting user privacy at the same time.