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Cellphone tracking services: Friend finder or Big Brother?

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“How are we going to get all the benefits that come from doing geo-location without sacrificing people’s privacy?” asks Lauren Gelman, executive director of Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society (CIS).

Ms. Gelman and other privacy experts caution that when users allow companies to track their locations, third parties – such as the government, litigants, and advertisers – can potentially tap into that data. “If you have the information, someone is going to come asking for it.”

In other words, could your iPhone or BlackBerry be used to spy on you? Will your spouse or employer know where you are even when you don't want them to?

Who’s in the Loopt?

As Loopt and Google are moving forward in the realm of geosocial or mobile social networking, companies such as NearbyNow and Placecast are exploring ways that advertisers could potentially exploit growing databases of location-specific information (imagine, for instance, getting a coupon for pizza on your mobile phone after walking by a pizzeria).

Altman stresses that Loopt puts a premium on customer privacy and doesn't sell the information to advertisers. It does, however, post ads on its service based on location. Its privacy policy states: “Loopt discloses some personally identifiable, registration, profile, or location information to subsidiaries, affiliated companies, or other businesses or persons for the purpose of providing certain features of the Loopt Services, in order to serve relevant advertisements in support of the Loopt Services, and for processing such information on our behalf.”

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