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No silver bullet for maps security

Increasingly detailed maps bring vulnerable security concerns which have no straightforward solution, but groups still have ways to protect themselves, says security company exec.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor on

While there is no one solution to solve the security problems arising from increasingly detailed digital maps, a security company executive believes there are still ways around which different groups can protect themselves.

In an e-mail interview on digital maps and security, Benjamin Mah, general manager of e-Cop Singapore, noted that there are definitely security concerns as the world becomes more connected and excessively detailed information faces the possibility of falling into wrong hands.

But despite the lack of a silver bullet to slay the security monster arising from digital maps, he believes there are still avenues that people can take to limit or prohibit what a map provider is able to show on the maps.

Government entities must develop policies and regulations to inform map providers of the dos and don'ts, said Mah. For example, map providers must remove or blur out map details of sensitive or out-of-bound areas.

He noted that governments must also conduct regular audits to ensure the trustworthiness of the maps.

As for individuals, he suggested that they can raise the profile of privacy rights by having dialogues with authorities to ensure a defined classification of what information the map service provider can have access to.

Previously, privacy issues arose when map providers had street-level photographs included in their maps. Map service providers such as Google have responded to such privacy concerns by blurring out license plates and faces to protect individual privacy.

For homeowners concerned about their homes appearing on Google Street View, Andrew McGlinchey, head of product management at Google Southeast Asia, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview that individuals can request for the company to take down images of their houses.

In an age of over-sharing, coupled with the popularity of location-based services, individuals can unintentionally broadcast to the world that they are not at home.

Now inactive Web site Please Rob Me used to gather Twitter messages pushed by Foursquare, which shared the location of where the user was at the moment. As suggested by the Web site name, criminals were then welcomed to rob users' homes as they were out.

The creators stated on the Web site that it was set up to raise awareness of over-sharing.

Government-encouraged sharing
While Mah said that governments need to control how much access map providers have to data, some governments, such as Singapore's, does seem to permit free government data to be included on maps.

With its OneMap portal, the Singapore government aims to "spur innovation by facilitating and promoting the use of geospatial information across the public, private and people sectors".

Using OneMap's API, location-based services company ShowNearby developed ShowNearby Analytics, which is able to present demographics of the area. The company said this will benefit organizations when choosing locations to set up shop.

Asked if displaying information such as education, age and income would invade the privacy of residents, ShowNearby responded that the demographic details shown are only broad classifications with no personal details revealed.

The company added that the data on the portal is not massively pushed to users, but is accessible based only on the user's needs.

Google's McGlinchey noted that his company does not put demographic information on the maps, though it is possible for the data owner to make this available on Google Maps.

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