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Webroot Offers Advice On Overcoming The Privacy Issues Of Geolocation

Webroot Software : 14 July, 2010  (Technical Article)
With a large proportion of mobile phone applications using location-tracking, Webroot takes steps to address the concerns of users over their privacy and offers advice on preventing geolocation applications from breaching privacy
More and more people are revealing their exact location on the Internet or being tracked via geolocation applications installed onto their mobile devices, increasing their chances of being targeted by Internet security attacks, according to new research commissioned by Webroot, a leading provider of Internet security software for the consumer, enterprise and SMB markets.

Surveying more than 1,500 social network users who own geolocation-ready mobile devices, Webroot found that 39% indicated to using geolocation on their mobile devices and 73% of those use a geo-tracking application to do so. Among those, more than a quarter used location-based services to share their whereabouts with strangers, and 14% use one to meet new people.

Of the UK respondents, Google Latitude (32%) was the most commonly used geo-location tool, followed by Yahoo's Flickr (25%), Google Buzz (20%) and Twitter Location (18%). Other rapidly growing location-based services such as Foursquare and Gowalla encourage users to share their current locations by 'checking-in', and in return they are rewarded by earning points or they receive discounts offered by nearby retailers.

Jeff Horne, Director of Threat Research, Webroot, said "as location-based applications continue to gain popularity, we should all be increasingly aware of what cyber-criminals can do with the huge amount of personal data that is being shared by everyone on the Web. People often get excited about the new features available on social networks and forget about the power of the Internet and the amount of valuable information they give away through the simple act of updating their status and 'checking-in' at their current location."

Summary of Key Findings

In the UK, the Smartphone is the consumer's mobile device of choice. 76% of UK respondents indicated that they own a Smartphone which includes Android, Blackberry, iPhone, Nokia and Windows Mobile phones. Ninety-four percent of Smartphone owners use geolocation applications. More than half of the UK's Smartphone and mobile device users access the Internet several times a day (53%).

The ability to share personal information online with a number of people via social networking sites, is getting easier and easier, due to the increased use of the Internet on mobile devices. The way in which this information is now presented online as a geographical destination is a cause for concern for many individuals:

• 52% of UK respondents tag their whereabouts in a photograph online, thus revealing their location in an instant.

• In the last year, 30% of UK respondents have shared their geographical location with people other than their friends;

• One in 11 respondents have used geolocation applications to meet a stranger, either digitally or in person. This is predominantly within the 18-29 age group;

• 52% of UK respondents are very or extremely concerned about loss of personal privacy as a result of using geolocation applications;

• 41% are aware and very or extremely concerned of letting potential burglars know when they are not at home;

• Women are particularly concerned about the risks associated with geolocation. In the UK, 46% of women are highly concerned about letting a stalker know where they are, compared to only 27% of men.

What Can Users Do?

To help consumers understand and protect themselves from the implications of sharing information via location-based applications, Webroot has provided the following tips as a guideline for safer social networking:

Be aware of your Smartphone settings— To keep your personal whereabouts private, turn off the "locate me" feature on your iPhone, or the GPS photo-tagging feature found on most Smartphones. When enabled, this feature allows your phone to store GPS data within your pictures. Thus every time you take a picture and upload it to a social network or other Web site, the photo contains GPS data that can pinpoint your location.

Never post anything you wouldn't want the world to see—Even with privacy settings enabled, social network sites themselves make mistakes and sometimes accidentally make information marked private available to anyone. As a rule of thumb, only post photos or messages that you wouldn't mind your boss, parent, or any stranger to see or read.

Make personal information private—Protect yourself by updating privacy settings on your profile to restrict or omit access to any personal data. Users of popular geolocation services that allow you to share where you are should be especially careful to disclose your location only to specific people, and to nobody else.

Don't be the first to click a link—When a friend posts a link to a Web site on their profile or wall, and you've never been to that Web site before, wait a few hours before you click. Being the first to follow a link can lead to being the next victim of a social network worm.

Read between the lines—Familiarize yourself with the social networks' privacy options to ensure you're taking advantage of any enhanced security features.

Be exclusive—Only accept friend requests, emails and site links from people you know. Even then, be selective about who you 'friend' and what you open or click, especially from people you don't know.
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