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New fears over location data

News, 05 April 2016

LONDON: Privacy campaigners have raised the spectre of criminals and child molesters accessing the location data of mobile phone users in order to burgle empty homes or target schoolchildren.

"The information that mobile and wifi service providers hold on location tracking is an evolving and high-risk area of cybercrime that needs urgent attention by the industry," according to Pete Woodward, founder of information security business Securious.

"Otherwise we will face the frightening prospect that such highly sensitive data could get into the hands of the likes of kidnappers and paedophiles," he told The Guardian.

Research by Krowdthink, a privacy campaign group, found that 93% of UK citizens had opted in to location tracking, with mobile phone and wireless operators able to establish their whereabouts at any time of the day or night.

"Effectively consumers are opting in to being location-tracked by default," said Geoff Revill, the founder of Krowdthink.

"The fact of the matter is your mobile service provider knows – without you knowing – where you are, how you got there and can figure out where you are going."

Separate research by the Open Rights Group (ORG) found that mobile phone and wireless operators were failing to give clear information to users that their (anonymised) data was being sold on for marketing purposes and there were inadequate opportunities to opt out.

"Mobile service providers need to collect and keep data so that they can bill us for services," accepted Jim Killock, ORG executive director. "But just because they collect this data does not mean that they have an automatic right to process that data for other purposes without our consent.

"If they don't, they are removing our right to control this data and the risks associated with their using it."

Both groups advised mobile users to turn off wireless internet when they are out, in order to avoid disclosing their identities as they pass through hotspots, and warned that they were at risk of revealing location information when sharing digital photos or video images and when downloading mobile apps.

Data sourced from The Guardian; additional content by Warc staff