Location-based services are creative and exciting but raise serious security concerns

iphoneLook at your list of Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Find one you’ve never met in real life (and I’m sure there are plenty). Now, track down their number through a phone book or whatever you got. Done? Okay, great. Next, dial their number, and do it like this:

Semi-stranger: “Hello?”
You: “Hi. My name is Bob Johnson and I’m at 1250 Homer Street in Vancouver, British Columbia right now.” 

That’s awkward and weird, no? That semi-stranger is going to be confused, perhaps a little scared, and definitely creeped out. Can you blame them?

No, but every day, hundreds of thousands of location-based services are being used on the internet from Facebook Places to Twitter Geo to Foursquare. You probably thinking calling somebody you’ve never met and disclosing your exact location is pretty bizarre, but you may actually be doing this on a daily basis without even realizing it.

Fact is, location-based stuff is neat but dangerous. The problem being that it’s so extremely public – it has never been easier in the world to track where an individual is and has been in this world. Such a short time ago, everyone wanted their privacy – now, they’re over-revealing information completely voluntarily! And putting themselves at risk while doing so. Quoth The Province:

LBS raise new privacy concerns since location data can be very sensitive. Consistently having access to a person’s whereabouts can increase the scope for personally damaging or embarrassing situations and can lead to discrimination (frequent visits to a hospital could betray a health problem that may be used against a job applicant) not to mention enhance the risk for blackmail and extortion.

Most of the location tracking is done voluntarily. Nevertheless, since many users don’t read privacy policies, these users may be granting wide permissions through disclosures they haven’t read. Moreover … policies are often vague, especially regarding who the collected data will be shared with. Mobile users also may be unaware of the fact the organization collecting data already has other information about them.

It’s fairly obvious that location-based services will continue to increase in popularity, but strict privacy policies must be implemented and enforced to keep users’ safe. Of course, the best protection is to avoid using these types of things altogether. But that’s like me telling you not to have sex because it carries risks. I know you’ll just do it anyway.