Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The New York Times on microblogging, GPS, and privacy

Jaiku logoTwo new pieces in The New York Times by Ivar Ekman and Laura M. Holson discuss the looming possibility of our cellphones being used to track our every move. In the first, Ekman reports how Google’s recent purchase of Jaiku could set up the search giant to acquire vast amounts of information about users. Here’s a quote from the article describing what Jaiku does:

Petteri Koponen, one of the two founders of Jaiku, described the service as a “holistic view of a person’s life,” rather than just short posts. “We extract a lot of information automatically, especially from mobile phones,” Mr. Koponen said from Mountain View, Calif., where the company is being integrated into Google. “This kind of information paints a picture of what a person is thinking or doing.”

Ekman points out that it is this automation—and its connection to “what a person is thinking or doing”—in the hands of Google that worries some people.

Helio's buddy beacon serviceIn the second article, Holson describes one instantiation of this mobile data-collection: GPS tracking with cellphones. A number of cellphone carriers now offer a service where their subscribers can show their location to other users and see those users’ locations as well. Typically, the services allow users to add and block other individuals from seeing their location on a person-by-person basis. Holson points out that the ethics of this practice are only emerging slowly—there are some people who users wouldn’t want to know their location, like bosses or spouses, but others, like close friends, who users would never think of blocking from the service.

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