Global Positioning Systems and Social Media-Anathemas to Privacy

By DiSipio, Basil A. | Defense Counsel Journal, October 2017 | Go to article overview

Global Positioning Systems and Social Media-Anathemas to Privacy


DiSipio, Basil A., Defense Counsel Journal


Basil A. (Bill) DiSipio has been a member of the IADC since 2002 and is a former President of the IADC Foundation. Mr. DiSipio is the Managing Shareholder of Lavin, O'Neil, Cedrone & DiSipio. The firm maintains offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, New York and Rochester, New York. For close to 40 years, he has been a litigator and trial lawyer representing corporations, insurers, and non-profit and religious organizations in tort and commercial litigation. Mr. DiSipio was assisted in writing this article by a former Lavin, O'Neil, Cedrone & DiSipio law clerk, Caitlin Wilenchik. She is a 2016 graduate of The George Washington University School of Law.

LIKE a cat and mouse game, privacy law strives to keep up and provide redress for injuries related to information extracted from the latest technology. As a result of social media driven technology, society's notion of what should be protected personal information has changed over time.1 Posting a picture of an intimate moment between two people has become commonplace, and so has meeting that person through a cellphone application. In an age where face-to-face interactions can be completely avoided, society's privacy concerns have adjusted, inspiring new law, but not implementing it. Courts are left to analyze new privacy issues using antiquated methods.

Juxtaposing old practices people used to unlawfully invade another's privacy to the new practices used reflects how old privacy law does not properly address the new problems. People are no longer breaking into buildings or homes to steal sensitive information. This world is now full of people who carry tremendous amounts of sensitive information in their cell phone, and someone no longer has to steal the cell phone to get that information. It can be accessed remotely. The cell phone has advanced to a degree greater than those devices used to send men to the moon. It does not help that because of the current legal landscape, it is unclear whether the average person has a right to protect a majority of the information supplied to social media applications or the unknown information collected.

A modern cell phone is now called a smartphone, which is capable of sharing its physical location at any time.2 Smartphones have a Global Positioning System ("GPS") chip inside, and the chip uses satellite data to calculate a person's exact position, which is supplied to various social media applications.3 Even if a GPS signal is unavailable, some social media applications, like Foursquare,4 can use a less accurate method to gain information from cell towers to find someone's approximate position.5 GPS and social media applications garner a mass amount of its user's private information, and this process poses a threat to their privacy because industries that manufacture this technology have unregulated security measures to protect sensitive information, if they have any measures at all.

Years ago, small children could gain access to their parents' computers, enter an AOL chat room and at most, risk knowingly sharing personal information with the wrong person. It started with chat rooms, then MySpace and LiveJournal where anyone could publish their thoughts, feelings, birthdays, identify family members and friends, and the website could, in turn, provide direct access to other users. Today, add Twitter, Tumbler, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat to the social media category as applications available at all times on a cell phone, which provide a user with more outlets to project personal information to others and keep a permanent log of this information. These social media outlets can help someone create a brand; or keep family and friends abreast of their life by sharing images, opinions, and details; or create an easy opportunity for others to unlawfully gain or use personal information.

Social media applications succeed when users use them as much as possible. Profits increase the more information a customer shares, but this information can also be mined and traced by the wrong person. …

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