The Geotagging Technology
Information technology is developing very fast. The advent and proliferation of internet, mobile devices and applications is transforming lives at the individual and organizational levels. Similarly, the applications of the emerging digital technologies are expanding rapidly as people find new ways of making life easier and technology gadgets become cheaper, smaller, and more accessible to organizations and the public. Currently, organizations are leveraging digital technologies to conduct many business activities and interact with clients (Setemen et al 4). Similarly, people are increasingly interacting virtually using digital devices, software, and the internet (Dasu et al. 1). These interactions can be tracked and monitored by individuals and organizations interested in the different segments of the population. Subsequently, people are interacting more with organizations and each other using digital technologies, reducing the need for face-to-face interactions and creating huge volumes of data at the same time. Therefore, the organization-client interface is increasingly becoming technology assisted, delivering huge benefits to the organizations and clients. The world is now interconnected through digital technologies, which have reduced the temporal and spatial barriers experienced when using traditional technologies.
One of the technologies that have emerged courtesy of the internet and digital technology is geolocation. This technology uses data obtained from digital devices connected to the internet to precisely locate the actual position of users in real time (Estes 1). It leverages other innovative technologies, such as the global positioning system (GPS), internet protocols (IP), wireless mobile networks, and wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) to assign geographical coordinates that help locate the position of digital gadgets and their users (Gatlan 1). In turn, the combination of these technologies can be used to monitor the activities and movements of digital device handlers and users with pinpoint accuracy. Geolocation generates three primary types of data that have different applications, including georeferencing, geocoding and geotagging data (Estes 1). These data can be categorized into two types; the first being active user-based and device-based data and passive server-based lookup and data correlation, which are then cross-references to generate high-accuracy outcomes (Estes 1). Currently, digital devices are equipped with geotagging technologies that generate position stamps and attaches them to different types of digital objects, including text messages, pictures, and videos, to generate geospatial information (Avvenuti et al. 2). This has led to the innovative use of geotagging technology by individuals and organizations, generating huge volumes of confidential and personal information.
However, these fast technological developments are accompanied with worrisome challenges requiring continuous monitoring and interventions to prevent the misuse of digital technologies and the data they generate. The enormous volumes of data generated from using digital technologies contain valuable and private information that should be accessible to only authorized entities (Dasu 2). Such data is valuable to competitors of business entities and unscrupulous criminals that want to defraud individuals and organizations. Therefore, it presents security challenges that require a multipronged approach to address them. A robust regulatory regime is a critical approach for safeguarding valuable and proprietary data, including personal information held in digital devices and shared over the internet-enabled networks. Therefore, there is an urgent need for governments to create firm and enforceable regulation and raise the public awareness to control the potential violation of privacy presented by geotagged data. Indeed, individuals place much faith in their government to effectively regulate the used of new and emerging technologies without realizing that it can tailor-make these regulations to suit its overt and covert intentions. Governments may realized the potential of new technologies in helping them control be masses and regulate their activities though continuous surveillance. In this age of heightened international competition and terrorism threats, possessing personal data, including individual’s identities and real-time locations is a critical advantage of any government wishing to secure its borders and maintain its comparative advantage in the international arena. Consequently, government may facilitate and promote new innovations that enable it monitor the populace.
In this paper, I will be examining the security concerns raised by the unregulated use of geotagged data to show the need for increased regulation and public awareness to curb potential violations of data privacy. Consequently, I will demonstrate the need for the government to regulate data that contain geotags to curb malicious misuse and privacy violations. I will begin by discussing the innovative use of data in the contemporary business environment and the challenges this presents. I will then delve into the regulation of technological innovations and the role of the government is protecting the use of personal information, while ensuring that the innovations do not erode the rights and liberties of individual citizenry. In the end, the discussion is expected to reveal and support the urgency of having watertight regulatory frameworks in an environment in which individuals and organizations generate large volumes of data and share it without considering the possible detriments the unregulated use of such data presents to individual, organizational, and national security.
The technology industry is constantly producing new innovations on a regular basis. The advent of the internet and its proliferation in the 21st century heralded the digital era. This technology inspired innovations in digital technologies and gadgets that use them in ways that were previously unimaginable. The general direction adopted by innovators it to miniaturize digital devices to increase their portability and lower their cost, so that they can be afforded and carried around by users. This enables the digital technology to be used on the go allowing users to multitask and therefore, save more time as they accomplish more tasks. In the same vein, innovators have focused on developing software that can accomplish different tasks with ease. The current trend points towards developing applications that can be used of the dominant information technology platforms found in mobile devices; android by Google and iPhone operating system (iOS) by Apple. While Apple’s iOS is a closed system developed for exclusive use in Apple’s devices, android is more open and can be use across different devices developed by different manufacturers. Consequently, while iOS and its applications has exclusive clientele, which explains its high cost, the android platform is more accessible and cost-effective, and in turn, more ubiquitous. Nowadays, the numerous mobile devices used by a majority of the world’s population run android applications. Altogether, new innovations promise several benefits that attend to the needs of people, thus delivering mutual benefits to the technology creators and users.
For instance, geotagging is one of the geolocation technologies that have pervaded the digital space worldwide. This technology is remarkable and valuable to different sectors, including businesses and law enforcement. Social media platforms have incorporated geolocation technologies and particularly geotagging, which is now a critical part of the metadata associated with any communication and artifact shared over these platforms. This means that every text message, picture, and video that is created and shared online over social media platforms is accompanied with a geotag, which is an indelible stamp indicating the location of the object and the time of its creation. This data is collected autonomously without the intervention of the user. Consequently, frequent social media platform users generate huge volumes of geotagging data, which accumulates in the objects metadata and stored in applications, mobile gadgets, and the servers that support the operating systems and applications. Businesses use geotagging technology to track the behavior of customers in difference market segments in real time, particularly when artificial intelligence is used predictively (De Montjoye et al. 81; Karami et al. 3). The data generated from such monitoring helps business target their marketing campaigns to specific customer segments in the market. For instance, the Uber application continues collecting customers’ location data even after the clients have completed their rides, hoping to understand their customers better by tracking their itineraries (Hayes et al., 2). Similarly, law enforcement agencies use geotagging technology to track people that are suspected of wrong doing, and identifying their location in real time when there is need to monitor their movement and activities, and apprehend them. In this regard, the geotagging technology portends several benefits to its innovators and users. At the onset, it is expected that new technologies would deliver mutual benefits to both parties. On one side, the creators of new technologies expect to profit from their inventions, as has been witnessed from the startups that introduce new technologies to the global public, which generate enormous profits that make the creators wealthy in very brief periods. After both sides of the divide benefit from the proliferation of new and innovative technologies, an innovation explosion ensues as individuals and organizations strive to outdo each other in devising new and exciting ways of using the new technology. Specifically, digital technologies have attracted many innovation entrepreneurs that have extended to applications to new and previously unimagined frontiers. This novel development is most visible in the development of android applications, which attract individual and corporate innovators because it its open-source architecture, unlike that of the iPhone operating system, which remains closed as an intellectual property of Apple. Consequently, enthusiastic innovators can join hands and collaborate to create new android-based application that are aimed are resolving all manner of issues and facilitating all kinds of process affecting the global populace, ranging from transferring funds across vast distances via mobile phones, to communicating with doctors about critical health-related issues, and delivering public services online by governments. Crowdsourcing is a hallmark of the collaborative activities demonstrated by technology innovators intend of solving diverse issues across the world at minimal cost and time investments.
Transparency and Privacy Concerns
Innovative digital technologies present serious transparency and privacy concerns. The safety of emerging innovations is often unknown and its devastating effects are only discernable after an event has occurred, often with great cost to property and human lives. People are excited by the amazing prospects afforded by new technologies, forgetting that these technologies may have serious security lacunas that undermine their proper intended use. History is rich with examples of new innovations that have calamitous effects when used improperly or handled carelessly. The new frontier in technology advancements that portend similar threats to human beings is digital technologies and data. Digital technologies generate data, which is a highly valuable commodity that has diverse applications across several organizations and industries. Data uses range from targeting marketing initiatives to specific customer segments to predicting the behavior of consumers and the population (Rana 3). The ability to use data correctly, precisely, and innovatively could be competitive advantage needed by an organization in the highly competitive business environment existing today. Data also enables governments to monitor its citizenry, often covertly, and help it design and implement social control interventions that would ordinarily experience serious opposition from the liberal segments of the population. For instance, governments are often apprehensive of any opposition that emerges among its citizenry and from insurgents from within and outside the national borders that wish to effect regime changes. In this regard, there are numerous notable cases of digital technologies being expanded into the public surveillance space, unearthing the often unthought-of concerns associated with the little understood novel technologies. The ordinary citizenry may be excited using such new technologies due to the much convenience they provide without realizing that they are generating huge amounts of data that inform on their personal characteristics, which can be used against them by unscrupulous individuals and organizations, including governments.
In this regard, digital technologies are veiled with opacity about their capabilities. Big data presents several dangers as its uses expand and its weaponization potential is explored by individuals and entities that wish to destabilize the global social order. Often, this potential is not disclosed by the technology innovators or appreciated by users. Recent history is rich with examples of how data has been weaponized to benefit individuals and groups that wish to establish their recognition and dominance using unconventional means. Terrorists and states have used new and emerging digital technologies to perpetuate their strife for destabilizing the systems and operations of their perceived enemies as an alternative to open armed conflicts. Notably, internet technologies have been used by the United States to destabilize Iran’s nuclear program, while Russia has hacked the security systems in the United States and even attempted to destabilize the presidential elections. These dangers are worsened by the users of new digital technologies, who are often oblivious of the negative consequences that would result from the misuse or mishandling of such innovations. Many internet and digital technology users are not aware that they can be used to weaponize data and launch attacks to unsuspecting entities, be it individuals, organization, and even nations. Therefore, there is need for the public to become aware of their vulnerability and the dangers they present when they use digital technologies indiscriminately without regard for the personal information they are availing to often under-regulated and unsecured public spaces.
Regulating Data Usage
Since innovations have uses that have not tested before, which can lead to positive and negative outcomes, their use should be regulated to prevent its misuse by unscrupulous individuals and organizations. Innovators initially focus on data uses that are beneficial to individuals and organizations. However, the beneficial application of data is quickly crowded as digital technology knowledge become easily accessible and ubiquitous in society. Naturally, innovators then venture into the unconventional use of digital technologies to maintain a competitive advantage in a highly-competitive environment to expand and sustain new profit streams. Ethical applications of digital technologies gradually become the new competitive frontier among a global populace that is oblivious of the dangers the proliferation of their personal data portends to unscrupulous individuals and organizations. Governments often learn belatedly of the dangers the liberal use of data portends to its own security and that of its populace. Therefore, governments that were initially intent on promoting the use of digital technologies and the data generated for promoting business and other economic activities, encounter the challenge of the unethical use of such technologies by individuals and organizations lacking moral and ethical probity to regulate their activities. Governments also realize that such technologies enable them to use the data generated to monitor their citizenry covertly without the knowledge or consent of the private citizens and organizations. Governments have the primary mandate of protecting its citizens from all kinds of harm, including that which would emanate from the accidental and intentional misuse of new technologies and data. However, governments are often caught up in a conundrum and dilemma because as much as they would wish to regulate the use of data to protect itself and citizenry from malicious use, it also realizes the potential of applications of data for securing itself against its citizenry and other entities that threaten its existence. Consequently, many governments have learned that regulating new technologies can also restrict its applications of the same in ways they would not want the public to know.
Regulations targeting innovations should be formulated in a manner that conforms to the laws of a country, while guarding against infringing on personal and individual liberties of the citizenry. Technology firms and governments have realized that unregulated technological spaces can undermine the projected organizational benefits and public safety respectively because the laws existing at the time had not factored in the emerging uses of new technologies. The proliferation and advancements in digital technologies have unearthed legislative gaps that need to be plugged to discourage the detrimental use by unscrupulous people on the unsuspecting and highly-vulnerable populace. The European Union (EU) has taken a leadership role in regulating the use of digital technology and the massive datasets it generates. Specifically, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is an innovative universal law regulating data protection and privacy within the European Union borders, in realization of the transnational movement of digital data and the inability of individual government to regulate its use across national borders (Bu-Pasha 68). Many other countries, including the United States have taken the cue from the European Union and attempted to consolidate the diverse and disparate laws and statutes that regulate the diverse digital technology environment.
This approach has been inspired by the digital technology industries inability to self-regulate as not technology innovators and developers would want to stifle the freedoms that generate their competitive advantage in the crowded and fiercely-competitive marketplace. Consequently, technology companies based in the United States, such as Google and Apple have different data security provisions for different markets. Driven by the pressure from the European governments, particularly those in France and Germany, these companies, the large technology firms have stricter data protection provisions for these markets, while adopting more liberal rule in the American domestic market (Van Hal 729). Notably, the United States regulatory regime allows these companies to collect personal data from consumers and share it with third parties without prior customer consent, a gap that is sealed in European markets (Boshell 2). This is an example of how governments can act unethically by providing technology companies with an operational freehand without major restrictions within the domestic jurisdiction because they can use this data for covert operations, like monitoring public activities. Consequently, these companies become embroiled in litigations with clients seeking judicial redress regarding violations of their privacy, with the fourth amendment being cited often in these cases (Dan 2). However, geotagging technologies present a new challenge to the regulatory regime in the United States, requiring special attention from the regulators of digital technologies in the country.
Regulating Geotagging Technologies
One way of regulating innovative solutions that emerge every day is regulate the collection and use of personal data. Many innovations have created devices and software that can collect the data of individuals and organization without their prior knowledge and consent. Locational data is collected by all social media platforms and smartphones found in the contemporary market, which has raised concerns among privacy observers and activist regarding the violation of private information confidentiality. While the good use of geotagging data raises not security concerns, the proneness of this data to be accessed by third parties, who are not bound by any restrictions because they do not interact with users directly, raises particular security concerns and exposes the regulatory lacunas that exist. Third parties can easily access geotagging data and use it to stalk private citizens, conduct corporate espionage, and perpetuate cybercrimes without the knowledge of the government and private citizens (Remy 2). This is a worrisome application of the geolocation technology.
Similarly, marketers can be intrusive on the privacy of consumers by pushing unsolicited advertisements to customers that have not requested for them. In addition, many technology users do not know how to block the intrusion of those parties in their mobile devices, while technology companies provide vague provisions that leave windows that can be exploited for gathering locational data from technologically unskilled and unsuspecting users. Other parties have discovered that they can profit from mining geotagged data from social media platforms and sell it to marketers without the users’ knowledge and consent. Indeed, the United States government has been a beneficiary of this regulatory lacuna, which could be the reason why it has not tightened the existing regulatory framework, particularly that controlling the operations of third parties that gain access to geotagged data (DeLuca 13). This calls for a change in the regulatory approach used by the United States government, to protect the citizenry better without stifling the technological innovativeness of private enterprises.
The United States government could start by consolidating the disparate laws regulating digital technology to simplify the regulatory regime and assign more responsibility to technology owners and producers, particularly application developers and mobile device manufacturers, who intentionally leave open backdoors that unethical business entities and cybercriminal capitalize. The regulatory regime has numerous laws governing different aspects of digital technologies, which confuse consumers and discourage enforcement. Usually, consumers whose privacy has been violated are not sure which law to use to prosecute their cases and the judicial system offers complex rulings that regular citizenry cannot comprehend. Consequently, technology companies capitalize on the legal complexities to argue out cases against them, to the disadvantage of the users. In addition, the government can raise public awareness regarding the potential misuse of the information shared online. The government can enlist technology experts to advice the public on avoiding divulging locational data unknowingly by avoiding excessive use of social media, clearing and tuning off website cookies, and using anti-tracking solutions in their mobile devices (Eleanor 2). Federal agencies, like NASA have provided valuable information to digital technology users on how they can protect themselves against cybercriminals by avoiding divulging sensitive data to social media platforms and mobile applications (Gatlan 2). Other government agencies should take up NASA’s cue to promote the safe use of digital technologies.
Geotagging is an innovative technology that portends numerous benefits to data owners and users. Unfortunately, it is also an equally harmful technology if misused intentionally and accidentally. It can devastate individuals and organizations because it can be used to violate individual privacy and propagate cybercrimes against unsuspecting individuals and corporate entities. This risk is worsened by the lack of a watertight regulatory framework that would require the technology developers to disclose the potentials of such technologies, the huge datasets they generate, and the risks emanating from intentional and unintentional misuse. Consequently, the United States government has an uphill task of regulating the collection and use of location data better, as demonstrated by governments in Europe, and raising public awareness on how to secure personal information better when using mobile applications and devices.
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