That's why Internet companies need to offer transparent and granular controls for consumers that, in the first instance, ask permission before accessing their location. While all the companies providing location services have taken important steps to build the first generation of user controls, these controls must become more robust as location comes to pervade the Web experience.
Likewise, policymakers need to address the widening gap between America's aging and spotty privacy framework and the rapidly evolving technology landscape to which it applies.
Now is the time to enact a baseline, technology-neutral, consumer privacy law.
This law would require companies that collect personal information to follow fair information practices, including providing consumers with clear and concise notice of collection and use policies, a meaningful choice about the use of their information, access to information held about them, and remedies for misuse.
Location information, as well as other sensitive data, should be afforded heightened protection in that law.
Most important, however, the communications privacy laws that control government access to personal information need to be updated to take into account the changes in technology.
The legal standards for government access to both real-time and stored-location information remain unsettled and highly disputed. Rather than struggling to retrofit laws that were drafted before the digital age to today's technologies, those laws need to be rewritten to ensure that our Fourth Amendment rights against government search and seizure still have meaning.
The location-enabled Web has the potential to be a real boon for consumers and fertile ground for Internet innovation, but it will only fulfill that potential if it evolves within a legal and cultural framework that recognizes the privacy rights at stake and puts control over this information in the hands of consumers.
Leslie Harris is president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology.