Success of any business highly depends on how well it manages and maintains customers’ and its own privacy. Both business and customer privacy is paramount in creating trust and consequently achieving business success. According to Techopedia, Internet privacy plays a major role in how information is maintained and controlled for the better good of the business and the customers. From definition, Internet privacy refers to the security level of what personal information is published via the Internet (“What is Internet Privacy? – Definition from Techopedia”). It is arguable that, with the introduction of location-based services, the privacy of customers and businesses cannot be guaranteed. However, this does not mean that the services are not essential and profitable to both parties.
Privacy is a business concern as much as it is a moral concern (Levmore & Nussbaum 2010). Since there are no laws or any official bodies that regulate the flow of information especially on the Internet and social media, the mandate to secure customers’ privacy solely depends on the business. Web-based and mobile applications are being developed with each passing day. The majority of these applications is aimed at directing traffic to the business websites. This earns the business more customers thus enhancing a better competition in the Internet world. To enhance this, some lines may be crossed without the users’ consent. It is evident that the majority of location-based services sends data to the site’s administrator without informing the users. When this is done, the following question of morality arises: To what extent is personal information private? The terms and conditions that users are required to accept before starting to use many sites and applications are encapsulated in the firm’s private policy. However, many users blindly accept the terms without having the inner look at what is entailed therein. As a result, many users blame the site developers. This is mainly due to the detailed documentation that uses legally binding vocabularies that can be hardly understood by the readers. The result is that the customers agree with the terms and conditions without fully understanding that they are selling their privacy to their most trusted business firms. The majority of these firms assure that the private information of their customers will never be shared with any third party. It should be noted that such a guarantee is not binding in modern technology age. The reason behind this is the massive increase in black hat hackers and online sniffers. The increase in information flow enhances hacking and scrupulous use of users’ information provided online (Espejo 2012).
Location-based services sound promising to the customers. According to the Electronic Privacy Information Centre News, it has been discovered that third parties may have an access to the user’s location history without receiving their prior consent. From their research, it is evident that information shared in social sites can be leaked to the third parties. As a result, the user may constantly receive updates and junk mails based on these locations. When this happens, the user’s privacy is violated, and his private and personal data become vulnerable. Barkhuus uses two case studies to evaluate the concerns that users while using location-based services. His article “Privacy in Location-Based Services, Concern Vs Coolness”, presents this two cases. It is evident that location-based services can be seen from the two following views; the developers’ view and the customers’ view (Barkhuus 2012). Developers are more concerned with how effective they can present an application that utilizes the user’s location to provide customized services. On the other hand, the users are more concerned with how much of their private information they have to provide. From the developers’ view the more information is provided, the more convenient it is to use a custom application. This is contrary to what the users think. The majority is of the opinion that providing less information is the best guarantee for their privacy. This shows a contradiction in the needs of the two concerned parties. The business on the other end steps in to hold the hand of the customer and often promises the security of their information. Most customers are concerned with their privacy in the initial stages. However, when they start using location-based services, they forget about all cautions (Barkhuus 2012). It is evident that at this stage, the users have fully trusted the firm or company of their choice with the information they presented. As a result, the firm should be ready to protect the users; information with all the technical and technological methods available. Protecting users’ information is a challenge for every company. With the increased online transaction carried out daily, businesses have little or no time to scrutinize and verify the identity of many users. This has resulted in hackers taking advantage of the situation and making information more vulnerable.
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However, there are numerous benefits of location-based services. Upcoming gadgets such as smart phones and tablets enhance the use of these services. There is real-time update of information online (M?hlbauer 2013). Online shopping, game playing and social interaction have been enhanced by the location-based services. However, the information that users provide is sensitive and once it falls to the wrong hands, it can be used for destructive purpose. Cases of online fraud, identity theft and destruction of one’s reputation have been recurring every day on the Internet. One of the challenges facing LBS and customer security is lack of proper disclosure. Firms fail to outline clearly the amount of information that is to be collected concerning an individual. This is for the reason that some applications are designed to send data anonymously to the site without the user’s knowledge. Based on the sites the users traverse and the type of information they search, some sites have been able to create online profiles for their visitors. They use this information to offer coupons and advertisements to their users. Cases have been cited like that of Google scanning the users’ mails to deliver ads based on the content they receive. The online scanning software is a way of interfering with the users’ privacy (“We are Watching You: Location-Based Privacy Issues”). When such an issue arises, morality is of concern. Confronted, such a massive company argues that the service runs for free, and it is supported by the ads. Such a move is insensitive towards the customers. Despite the fact that the service is free, scanning ones mails to continue giving them storage space is selfish. Based on users review on the issue, some prefer that the service was paid for unlike the intrusion of their privacy. It should be noted that users may be willing to pay a high price for their privacy to be maintained. Therefore, making a move on users; privacy without their prior concent is considered to be insensitive and selfish.
The rigidity of the privacy laws fails to keep up with the changes in modern technology. Privacy is seen as the freedom of the individual to be left alone, free from any surveillance or interference from government or other individuals. This stand contradicts with the benefits of the location-based services. It is evident that everybody wants to receive benefits that come bundled with LBS. However, customers are reluctant to share their personal and private information to better location-based services. Business is a two-way traffic. In order to obtain something, one must give something in return (M?hlbauer 2013). Therefore, viewing the privacy concern issue from a business perspective, the whereabouts of the customer should not be considered as a matter of violating privacy. Since everybody wants the convenience of the location-based services, they should be willing to pay the price of being tracked. However, for this to be effective without violating the privacy laws and concerns of the customer, a review of the former private laws should be carried out. During this review, I am of the opinion that the level of private information to be collected has to be included and well stipulated. When this is done, there will be transparency between the business and the customer. The customers’ trust and confidence in the business will be elevated as they will have an idea of how their information is being used. If the degree to which they provided their information is correct, they may possess the grounds for a legally binding suit in case of violation of the stipulated laws. The review must be in place. According to Adam Penenberg, surveillance cameras have become part of the urban landscape. This statement clearly shows how the government has sidelined the privacy of citizens in the name of upholding security. It should be noted that the same surveillance cameras used for security reasons are also used to track the behavior of an individual. When this happens, the individual is vulnerable and exposed to immeasurable risk.
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Having reviewed the above privacy issues and the advantages as well as disadvantages of the location-based services, the following question arises: How safe is safe for LBS? This is a question that many users and businesses ponder before making a move. It has been noted that giving too much information is an issue of concern among the majority of users. On the one hand, no matter how little information is provided, it can be damaging if it falls on the wrong hands. It is also evident that privacy and security of the information provided cannot be secured a hundred percent in this information and technological age. With this in mind, it should be noted that information security solely depends on the owner of the information. In this regard, I agree with the article “Location-Based Services: Time for a Privacy Check-In” published by ACLU of Northern California. The warning signs on how privacy has been violated indicate that a time for change has come. The information provided by users can be used by law enforcement agents to determine and secure the location of a wanted criminal. This is especially enhanced by social sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other online social media and dating sites where people post most of their personal information with an aim of impressing others. Teenagers especially abuse these services posting anything including their nude photos. Cases have shown how damaging this information can be especially in the future when one is ready to settle down in a relationship or searching for a job. Thugs, hackers and terrorists who need to know the exact location of their targets also utilize these services. This is based on the fact that there lacks a global constitution to protect the privacy of individuals on the Internet. The only clear thing about location-based services is the lack of clarity (Espejo 2012). As a result, individuals are left on their own to navigate and facilitate their own security while using the Internet. On the other hand, businesses take advantage of this and secure a chance to enhance their market. Customers should understand that the best policy to adopt to enhance their security is to review the policies of the firm as well as experiences with the service before consenting with the policy.
In conclusion, privacy cannot be separated from an individual. It is true to state that every individual has always something to hide. If this area is stripped naked, one may not only loose customers’ reputation but also violate the inner sense of morality. If an individual is presented with the ability to take charge of their lives without looking back on their shoulder, privacy protection should be the central part. The advantages presented by location-based services will be of no use if they continue to violate the privacy of their users. The only way to ensure that this is not the case is by ensuring that policies on privacy are reviewed. Corporate practices and laws should be evaluated to ensure that they prioritize on customers; security and privacy. The design of location-based applications should not violate the laws of consent. This means that every application should present the customer with an opportunity to review the firm’s policy on privacy before consenting. Sending anonymous data from the customer for the benefit of the business should not be tolerated. If these adjustments are made, a high degree of privacy can be maintained.