Placeme: the privacy disaster

Placeme by Alohar is a new smartphone app that revolutionises location awareness by gathering huge amounts of contextual data from your device and making sense of it all. Unfortunately it also opens up a world of privacy issues.

Typically one would set up Placeme on their phone and forget about it. It gathers all the data it can from your device such as; GPS, accelerometer, compass and even WiFi and bluetooth data.

The data is then sent to their servers and correlated with all kinds of publicly available data such as Google Maps, to produce a very accurate history of your movements. The app could potentially warn you of accidents along routes you frequently travel without you having to ask for it or set up beforehand.

The obvious concern is; who gets to see where I’ve been? As with many apps, non-personal info will be shared with third parties, such as how many people visit a certain store during a certain period and how long, on average people spend in the store.

This kind of data sharing is not unusual and does not violate privacy. However, in the Placeme Privacy Policy it states: “We take your privacy interests very seriously” but then goes on to say things like “third parties may be supplied with or have direct access to your personal information”.

It also states that: “We may release personal information when we believe that doing so is appropriate to comply with the law”. However, in the following video at about the 16:10 mark, Placeme inventor Sam Liang implies that personal data is encrypted and that they would need your permission to access it.

This kind of intelligent, context aware technology would be extremely useful to end users but there is the assumption that in order to use it, one would have to forfeit a certain level of privacy. Sam Liang believes that “the most important thing is the value you provide” and that people would be willing to give up their privacy once they’ve built up a dependence on the app.

I don’t believe for a second that privacy has to be traded in for any technology. Proper use of encryption within a sound security infrastructure, in combination with a solid privacy policy would give us all the technology we need without sacrificing privacy. I hope to see services like this become commonplace without the unnecessary privacy issues.

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Placeme: the privacy disaster