Location privacy in the age of the internet of everything

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

Use of complicated "legalese" and overlong privacy notices will have to give way to smarter ways to get user engagement and consent, according to Philip Fabinger, because current methods are not effective. The global privacy counsel who oversees all privacy legal matters at HERE Technologies told DataIQ that we are transitioning from the decade of the smartphone to the decade of the internet of everything. In doing so, methods of gaining consent and informing about privacy in regards to location and personal data will have to change, too.

HERE Technologies, a mapping company owned by a consortium of German automotive companies, commissioned a survey, published in March, into consumer attitudes to privacy and personal location data, and found that many people voiced concerns about data sharing.

Person in empty parking lotA large majority (87%) of consumers globally said they dislike the current privacy practices of most data collectors, and four out of five said that they feel out of control when services or apps change location data settings without their knowledge.

Fabinger noted that those concerns should be viewed in the context of a “decade of experiences in the smartphone age.” Users have been deluged with text-heavy notices when they sign up for services and end up agreeing to abide by terms of service that they haven’t read or understood.

Fabinger referred to a 2016 study conducted by academics from York University and the University of Connecticut who created a fake social network and found that few people bothered to read the privacy and terms of service notices. It also found that those who did spent less than a minute doing so.

Consumers spent 73 seconds on a privacy notice that should have taken 30 minutes

The fictitious social network NameDrop included the "gotcha clauses" of passing on users’ data to the National Security Agency and employers, as well as requiring the users’ first-born child as payment for using the service. The privacy notice should have taken 30 minutes to read and the terms of service 16 minutes, but the users who did so only took 73 seconds and 51 seconds respectively.

He recognised that consumers have a hard time managing their privacy settings and options, referring to a study carried out by Carnegie Mellon University which found that reading all the privacy notices and terms of service documents for all the websites that the average person visits annually would take 244 hours, over 100 days. He said: “In the age of machine-to-machine communication and the internet of everything where data communication involving personal data will be extremely widespread, all these topics will become extremely burdensome and this is something that requires a mind shift.”

Fabinger said that there will be issues down the road if we continue to apply the same practices that have been developed during the smartphone decade, such as relying on the willingness of users to tick-box privacy notices and terms of services without having read them in order to use the product or service in a frictionless manner.

"Location data is simply the enabler of the autonomous world."

He said that some of the technological advances in the decade of the internet of everything include autonomous machines, all types of autonomous vehicles, machine-to-machine communication, artificial intelligence as well as machine learning, among others. He went on to say that these advances mean that the underlying technology will change and much of that will involve location data. “Location data is simply the enabler of the autonomous world.”

He said that one of the reasons HERE Technologies conducted the study was to look at the next big development in technology with regard to privacy, transparency, consumer trust and confidence. Fabinger said that a new approach to theses issues could be to look at concepts such as privacy-as-a-service or privacy managers.

With regard to his company, Fabinger said: “As a mapping company, one thing is clear. People need maps, be it on their smartphone or in a vehicle to navigate from A to B and these applications will need to be extremely accurate.”