We’ve discussed how insurers and others want to watch you drive. Today, another challenging concept: Businesses want to use your cell phone to know where you are. We’d really like to hear your thoughts on the potential extremes of cell phone surveillance.
The Location Based Services (LBS) industry doesn’t view itself as anything nearly as scary as the dark 2002 movie “Minority Report,” but retailers certainly admired the idea when they saw actor Tom Cruise walk into a shop full of technology that recognized him and sprang to life with personalized ads. That’s what LBS continues to work toward, though most people are more familiar with personal navigation systems and social networking “friend tracking” apps, such as Google’s, reviewed by the Wall Street Journal’s Katherine Boehret.
The technology works because cell phones carry accurate global positioning chips in them, and, even if GPS is disabled, software can still triangulate on the phone’s signal between cell towers. Rescuers use the technology to find missing people; police, to track criminals. A less-noble use has been so-called “Bluecasting,” in which ads crowd onto a Bluetooth-equipped phone as it nears a commercial zone.
Where retailers see an enormous potential revenue stream, privacy advocates worry that phone users may be giving away more than they think. The editors of the Journal of Location Based Services wrote, in 2007, “Our precise location uniquely identifies us, potentially more so than our name, address, or even our genetic profile.” We’re sure lawyers for Elin Nordegren might love to have an LBS track for Tiger Woods, as one example.
LBS advocates say that users have ultimate control because these are “opt-in” systems. The question, though, is just how wise consumers will be in choosing options. All of us, for example, have faced the licensing agreement for new software. How many read the full document before pushing the “I accept” button? And, considering Facebook’s recent security flaw that briefly allowed individuals to open and read a friend’s other private instant message strings, or Apple’s discovery that its iTunes customer security had been breached by a developer, how long will it be before LBS tracking info similarly gets shared?
What do you think: Do you already use something like friend tracking?
What are the risks in sharing your location?
How much do you want a service or a retailer to interact with you?
Please, add a Comment! Express yourself!
TIM MORAN, the author of this week’s OurValues series, is a longtime freelance journalist whose work has appeared in national publications. Tim has written about a wide variety of topics, with concentrations in business, technology, and automotive subjects. He is a second-year graduate student at Wayne State University where he is studying history, a lifelong passion.