Mobiles and location-based services: We know where you’ve been

Posted on February 18, 2009  /  0 Comments

There was a time when I worked a lot on privacy, especially privacy issues surrounding transaction-based information (TGI). The last piece of that line of research received good reviews , the quote below being an example. The next step should have been a book; I chose to come to Sri Lanka to set up the Telecom Regulatory Commission instead. Privacy was a fast moving field at that time. I knew it would be too late to get into it, after the diversion in Sri Lanka. The diversion became the main thing.

Dr. Samarajiva looks at the impact of collecting Transaction Generated Information (TGI) on customer-business relationships, persuasively arguing that covert collection can lead to a spiral of mistrust. Once a consumer’s trust in a business is weakened sufficiently, the consumer will resist collection or tender misinformation, prompting businesses to take more aggressive steps to collect consumer information and fuel the cycle. Samarajiva offers Quebec’s UBI (Universal, Bidirectional, Interactivity) network as a workable counterexample. UBI’s policies, which vigorously protect consumer data, are set forth in the UBI Code of Conduct, a document that reflects Quebec’s own stringent protections for consumer information. Samarajiva argues that these protections should, with time and adherence by the participants, lead to a trustworthy (and trusted) online business system.

Anyway, the subject that I left is coming back to me, now through the mobile door.

With the dominance of the cellphone, a new metaphor is emerging for how we organize, find and use information. New in one sense, that is. It is also as ancient as humanity itself. That metaphor is the map.

“The map underlies man’s ability to perceive,” said Richard Saul Wurman, a graphic designer who was a pioneer in the use of maps as a generalized way to search for information of all kinds before the emergence of the online world.

As this metaphor takes over, it will change the way we behave, the way we think and the way we find our way around new neighborhoods. As researchers and businesses learn how to use all the information about a user’s location that phones can provide, new privacy issues will emerge. You may use your phone to find friends and restaurants, but somebody else may be using your phone to find you and find out about you.

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