Maintaining Location Privacy in the Digital Age
By Andrew Bolson, CIPP/US
Alarm has been raised about the dangers of having real-time location data widely available. For children and victims of domestic abuse, the concern can be real and warranted. However, as the privacy community debates the merits of geolocation, one glaring issue is not being addressed. The fact remains that a person’s home address is public information and can easily be found on the Internet.
In a bygone era, address information would be confined to the local yellow pages and on the shelves of dusty tax assessor offices. However, since these records are now found online, address information can easily be located with only a few clicks of the mouse. In fact, an industry has been developed out of the availability of public data. Companies like Spokeo.com, PublicRecords.com and PeopleFinder.com market and sell personal data, including address information, to anyone interested in purchasing it.
The data aggregator industry has successfully avoided government regulation by agreeing to self-governing measures that allow individuals to remove personal information about themselves from websites. Just as companies have built a business around placing information online, companies such as DeleteMe and DeleteMe Mobile have developed businesses to assist persons in removing such information. The ability to opt out of data-mining websites is an important first step for privacy. However, as long as data, such as address information, is considered publicly available, information about a person’s life will be found on the Internet.
For individuals determined to maintain their privacy, the best strategy may be to disassociate their addresses from their names by using a corporation, limited liability company or a trust--collectively, business entities. Celebrities and wealthy individuals already use business entities in order to ensure that their real estate purchases are kept private. Individuals who have less money but have similar privacy concerns should also be able to take advantage of business entities for real estate purchases.
The roadblock to the larger use of business entities is likely to be the banks and the mortgage industry. To banks and mortgage companies, business entities add an unneeded complication to a process that seeks to minimize risk with minimal cost. However, instead of viewing a person’s use of a business entity as a headache, lenders should be viewing business entities as an opportunity. As privacy concerns grow, it is likely that some individuals would pay a premium for products that consider privacy concerns as part of the lending process. Minimally, allowing individuals to use business entities could be a marketing tool that could provide a way for banks and lenders to separate themselves in a crowded marketplace.
Until address information is deemed private, retaining location privacy in the modern age will be difficult. An effective answer for those who crave privacy by need or by choice may be to disconnect their name from their address through the use of a business entity. The use of business entities will not provide complete anonymity. However, business entities will limit the amount of available information about a person and make it more difficult to be found. For anyone truly concerned about their location privacy, a business entity may be the most efficient way to maintain some sense of comfort and security.
Andrew Bolson, CIPP/US, is an associate with Rubenstein, Meyerson, Fox, Mancinelli & Conte in New Jersey.