Where’s Waldo? Geolocation, Mobile Apps, AND Privacy

Vol. 9 Special Edition

Lori Andrews is a professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law and the author of I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy (Simon and Schuster, 2013). Lori can be reached at landrews@kentlaw.iit.edu.

Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? Well, if she’s got a Droid, Google knows where she is. If she checks in on Foursquare or posts a picture on the mobile version of Facebook, her friends know where she is. Even the games she plays on her phone—such as Angry Birds—collect information about her location.

Where’s Waldo? If his parents have downloaded the PhoneSheriff app to his smartphone, they can track his location. Or they can use any number of apps to keep a digital eye on him. With WebWatcher Mobile, they can see what he is texting to friends and what he is looking at online. And with AirCover Family Locator, they can create an electronic fence around their child and get an alert if he and his smartphone leave a particular perimeter.

Virtually all of us are carrying devices that collect or record our location and that transmit data about our calls, our texts, and our searches. The vast majority of US adults (87%) own a cell phone, and more than half of cell phone owners (52%) have a smartphone. Many of us cram our cell phones with apps. Back in 2008, Apple and Google offered a total of 600 apps; now they offer more than a million.

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