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CSO - A few decades ago, it was a familiar public service announcement on American television: "It's 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?"
Today, thanks to geolocation, the more appropriate question, at any hour of the day or night, is: "Do you know how many people know where your children are?"
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The most likely answer is somewhere between dozens and thousands, or even millions. And that applies to adults as well. While most of the news over the past several months has been about how the National Security Agency (NSA) is stealing our privacy, the reality is that private companies, our own personal digital devices and favorite networking sites are stealing it as well -- or, more accurately, we are giving it up voluntarily.
Yes, there are regular warnings about the reach of the Internet: Don't post pictures or comments for your family or friends that could come back to embarrass or haunt you in your professional life. Don't announce that you're leaving on vacation, or post pictures from somewhere far away and therefore advertise that your home or apartment will be vacant for days or weeks.
But privacy experts say even if people take those precautions, the use of GPS-enabled smartphone apps, social and professional network sites and even renting a car can help companies, governments or thieves and other criminals build a "digital dossier" that paints a detailed profile of a person's entire professional and personal life.
Ben Edelman, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School and an expert on spyware and privacy, puts it in personal terms. " I might hesitate to tell a car rental company why I'm renting a car, what hotels I prefer to stay at, where I work, and what I like to eat," he said. "But with geolocation they'll know all that. They could provide that data to their insurance company, or to whatever advertisers care to buy it. Mobile phone providers and app providers can get similar data, but over an even longer period."
Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity, noted recently on the McAfee blog that apps like, "Foursquare, Facebook and Yelp allow you to check in' at places using your mobile phone, and then share your location with friends or on social networks...It can actually be a nifty tool...like when you are trying to find directions to a place: the map begins your directions where you are, since it knows your location. Some businesses even provide discounts or freebies as a reward for checking in."
But, the downside is that if your friends know where you are, so do people who are not your friends.
ISACA, formerly known as the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, has warned that while geolocation makes numerous new business models possible, it also introduces unprecedented new risks.
Ernst & Young partner Marios Damianides, a past ISACA international president, told USAToday that, "when a user's gender, race, occupation and financial history are combined with geolocation tags, the data can be used by criminals to identify an individual's present or future location. This raises the potential of threats ranging from burglary and theft to stalking and kidnapping."