“GPS”

… which of course stands for Google Paranoia Syndrome.

The fear that someone could be tracking everything I do online in order to steal my identity, break into my apartment, really embarrass me at some later date, or just try to sell me something.

It’s something that I personally think I’m less sensitive to than many, but it’s something which I do worry about more and more with the convergence of location-detection technology and apps.

My parents were early adopters of “GPS” – they had issues with things like Caller ID back in the day, and for years they’ve been upset about Google Maps and Street View. They just really, really don’t like the fact that strange people can look at their house. Germany is full of nutjobs who feel the same way, and their Street View looks like this:

Hallo, Nachbar!

When my parents and I get on the subject, we usually have the same discussion and go around in circles (“But mom, can’t strange people walk down your sidewalk now?”). At some point during this discussion I usually laugh at my parents’ unfounded fears (I never said I was the perfect son) …  but then wonder to myself if, in a way, they have a point.

Things have definitely changed in the last year or two on this front. Most people’s phones are actively trying to shout their location to the world now. Even my GPS-less iPod Touch is trying its hardest to get in on the act, thanks to a really creepy service Apple uses that tries to track the location of every wireless router in the world. If I live in one place, do I really want several dozen applications on my phone broadcasting openly that I’m on vacation halfway around the globe? Won’t we be burgled? Think of all the potential burglement!

But how much of this feeling is justified, and how much of it is an aging person’s knee-jerk wariness of new technology? I’m finding it hard to tell – there are definitely strategies to finding a balance between caution and paranoia regarding privacy whenever we’re presented with a new tool, but I think with each year the strategies themselves might change as well.

For example, I honestly have no idea why so many people in the US are obsessed with keeping their Social Security number secret. I don’t get it. What could somebody do with that number that they couldn’t do with, for example, your name and telephone number, which would have been in the phone book? If having other people glance at your Social Security number ever was a risk for some reason, I’m pretty sure it’s not any more. But for my parents, for instance, this was a big concern, and they’re not illogical people. How many of the worries I have about privacy settings, etc. are just as unfounded or outdated, and how many are legitimate?

Paranoia aside, I think I also have to avoid the danger of going too far in the other direction, and embracing every single new tool uncritically. Teachers do have a responsibility to know some basic skills for prudence in several evolving areas of online privacy and protection. Things like knowing when students are going to be using a service or application that broadcasts or tags their location and how, if necessary, to modify settings that affect face recognition, location tagging, etc. Things like helping students understand how “public” everything on Facebook is. Things like using Facebook responsibly ourselves.

So – and this is a boring conclusion but it’s all I’ve got – the key to a useful approach to online privacy issues is probably staying informed and being able to spot problem areas without getting paranoid and spending all your time in, as Marge Simpson once described it, a catlike state of readiness.

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4 Comments

Filed under COETAIL, Education

4 responses to ““GPS”

  1. I just posted this on Twitter, then say your post and thought it appropriate. And while Ron Swanson is incredible, I don’t think I’m ready to throw away my computer just yet.

  2. This reminds me of the story at the moment in the UK about soccer players for Liverpool FC who keep on getting burgled whilst they are playing matches. I guess it just goes to show that, technology or otherwise, you can’t avoid the crazies and anti-socials.

    I guess on the flip side of everyone knowing when you’re not in your house (be it due to a f/book update or that you’re live on TV) is that so many gadgets now can easily be traced. I think I’m signed up to some Apple service which allows me to locate all my Apple products should they get stolen. I’m not really sure if it works or not. However, as I don’t see myself playing professional sports on TV in the near future, hopefully I wont need to find out.

  3. All of which is why I read every digital Terms and Conditions in incredible detail before clicking Agree. Especially the new iTunes one I get every two weeks. I think there should probably be three options, like “I agree”, “I disagree”, and “I am in no friggin way qualified to make this decision”. I’m just waiting to find out that I’ve “agreed” to let Apple own all my music and that I’ve got a license to play it. Seriously. I wonder if there have been many court cases around the content of contracts that we all blindly click “agree” to. Thanks for the post!

  4. I think that both your skepticism and concern are equally well founded. While it’s certainly not healthy to be paranoid of everything online, a healthy dose of caution certainly can’t hurt. Unfortunately I think many of our students are missing this cautious side of the equation, if only because they blindly trust authority, even if that authority happens to be Zynga games.

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