'Liveline' considers ethics of location-based services

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07 April 2011

In the future, governments, security services and even average citizens will use GNSS-based technologies to share the whereabouts of various individuals. The ability to do so raises questions – now, the EU-funded ‘Liveline’ project has joined the debate on LBS security and privacy.

'Liveline' joins the debate in Brussels. © Peter Gutierrez'Liveline' joins the debate in Brussels. © Peter Gutierrez

Today, there are over 50 million mobile telephone handsets with satellite navigation-based location capabilities, and this number is growing rapidly. Meanwhile, services and applications are also being developed, some of which will provide important benefits, even in the context of a family. This may involve parents and adolescents, the elderly and people with certain disabilities.

But these same services and applications also raise interesting questions: how can service providers assure users that their services are secure, and what are the implications for individual privacy?

New aids for the vulnerable

The original objective of the Liveline project was to develop a commercial, secure location sharing service for vulnerable people, based on the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) and the EGNOS Data Access Service (EDAS).

“Close collaboration with the human sciences has led us to revise the original objective,” explains Liveline coordinator Wim Lahaye of Luxembourg’s DKE Aerospace. “We have redefined the goal and are now thinking more in terms of providing people with a secure location sharing system.”

The emphasis, he says, is on the free will of the individual to share his or her position with others. “Obviously, security and privacy are primary concerns, but with Liveline, we also want to offer a system that meets ethical demands and wins acceptance in society.”

The Liveline system will work in much the same way as the personal navigation devices that many people are now familiar with, except that instead of telling the user where he or she is, it will tell someone else, i.e. a parent or other carer, where the user is.

What people think about LBS

Gaby Jennes is Director of KHIG. “We invited the Liveline project to join us in this discussion of some of the ethical aspects around the use of location-based services,” she says. In the run-up to the ‘Stalking with a smile’ event, Jennes organised a number of focus groups with LBS stakeholders and potential users. She says most people seem to agree that society as a whole needs to regulate how information about where people are is gathered and how privacy is assured.

“For all of the people we’ve consulted,” says Jennes, “privacy is a chief concern. But opinions differ on just how to insure privacy.” Many feel that while technological developments should not be held back, we need to examine how they can threaten our personal freedoms. “For this reason,” says Jennes, “the issue of the security of data generated for LBS is most important.”

“With the Liveline project,” says Lahaye, “we are investigating precisely this kind of question as we work to develop a commercial, secure location sharing service for use by vulnerable people, focussing specifically on children and the elderly.

“But we also know that LBS will take many other forms. Young people, for example, will include information about their physical locations in their social networking interactions. Again the question of security becomes extremely important. Who will have access to that information and how will users be able to control that access?”

Eyes open

Lahaye strikes at the heart of concerns about personal privacy and security: “Location based services are coming, “ he said, “and nothing is going to change that. We can design them to achieve a good level of security, privacy and social acceptance. On the other hand, a 100% secure system does not and will never exist,” which means users need to consider very seriously the risks and implications before making decisions about LBS.

The Liveline project runs from January 2010 to July 2011 and is being funded under the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme.

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Updated: Sep 03, 2014