After reading yesterday’s Daily Nation report on the Airtel Gecko Landmarks Ltd partnership about the mLocator service meant to enable Airtel customers find other Airtel subscribers through an sms short code 30100, I got concerned about its privacy and security implications. My worries were not unfounded as the location of the sought after subscriber is supposed to be indicated in relation to “landmarks that are locally well-known, such as buildings, parks, bridges and farms to deliver accurate location information”. Meaning someone could easily locate you with intention of spying on you or causing harm.
To test the service, I sent “Find 0738******” to 30100 and I received this feedback “Welcome to Airtel mLocator! To locate Airtel users, send FIND followed by the phone number to 30100 e.g. FIND 073xxxxxxx. Asks permission on the first FIND.” The last part of the message brings comfort to people like me who were worried that some people could use mLocator to spy on others or even plot to harm them. Added control is offered by allowing you to unsubscribe from the service by sending STOP to 30100.
Location sharing services are basically available to smartphones through various services. Google just pulled down its Latitude services that I constantly used to know where some of the people close to me were. A lot of other people complained that the pulling down of Latitude had disabled them from knowing the whereabouts of their kids. Latitude services has been incorporated in Google plus though someone is not able to track another in real time as was in the case with Latitude. The benefits of being able to track loved ones, be able to find lost phones, and ability to effectively share with friends on our whereabouts outweighs the privacy and security concerns that have been raised, given that most of the location sharing platforms provide users with ability to adjust privacy settings. To understand how important location sharing is to people, just have a look at the success of Foursquare that has millions of users worldwide. Facebook, Twitter and Google+ users have also been given the opportunity to share their locations which they effectively use especially when they are at some International Airport or a 5 star hotel. mLocator by Airtel intends to offer these location sharing goodies to everyone including those with feature phones.
Now that Airtel has taken cognizance of privacy and security concerns, what it needs to do is to thoroughly educate the users on types of people who can be permitted to “find me”. The only problem with this is that I I can see domestic squabbles rise as partners will either decline to be found, unsubscribe unexpectedly or even forget that they agreed to be found by their partners.