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Posts Tagged ‘tracking’

Faces to Places: Location tracking and Facial Recognition Technology

October 7, 2019 Leave a comment

We have written many times over the years about insidious and invasive location tracking practices; the apps and devices we use that capture our location information until an outcry forces a rethink about personal rights and institutional ‘transparency’. Just when we start to think it’s all under control, another reason to be concerned emerges. Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) is now widely used in many countries, with live tracking via CCTV infrastructure now common practice. By comparing a database of existing photos with live images of crowds and individuals, possible matches at specific locations are flagged for further investigation.

Source: Skitterphoto (https://www.pexels.com)

Previously mobile devices – phones, tablets, activity trackers – could identify an individual at a particular location. That information could prove the device was at a location but not necessarily that the person owning the device was also present. With facial recognition large organisations and public authorities can now link a face to a place without the need to rely on the device-in-the-middle.

However, once again the widespread adoption of this technology has raced ahead of the legal safeguards governing its use. With frequent claims of the misuse of personal information, such as the recently reported case at London’s Kings Cross station, bias and the potential for misidentification (American Bar Association report) many groups are now calling for a review of FRT. San Francisco became the first US city this year to ban the use of FRT by its government although private companies are exempt from the regulation. The Chinese government recently announced plans to regulate the use of facial recognition technology in schools. Both the European Commission (EC) and the United Nations are also currently investigating how best to restrict the use of such technology. The EC is seeking to introduce additional regulations that will safeguard citizen rights over the use of their facial recognition data. 

Is FRT the ultimate personal location metric for the trackers? 2019 has seen an increase in awareness of the issues surrounding the use of this technology. Will 2020 see the introduction of additional regulation governing that use?

Location Tracking: Getting Under The Skin

March 11, 2019 Leave a comment

We’ve written many times over the last few years about the varying ways devices can track our location, with or without our explicit consent. In most cases our tracks are determined by our interaction with and/or our adjacency to a tracking device; the boundaries of our location privacy determined by the range and sophistication of those devices and to some extent our application preferences. To stop the location tracking, all we needed to do was change the settings, turn off the device or leave it at home and avoid the cameras. However, recent advances in microchip technology look set to change the boundaries of location tracking once more.

Microchip implants have been around for over 20 years, from early experiments proving RFID (radio frequency identification) implants could be used to open doors and turn on lights, to pet and patient microchips for storing identification and medical information. The next generation of microchips will see the inclusion of location tracking technology. Within the last year some new microchips have been introduced that can be read from a distance, are connected to the internet and GPS-enabled. With an embedded GPS-enabled microchip, we become the tracking device.

One company involved in this area, Three Square Market (32M), have been working on a voice-activated, body-heat-powered chip that will monitor an individual’s vital signs and track their location via GPS. With plans to test the new chips this year, 32M are focussing initially on dementia patients. With all such new technology, there always the potential to misuse and abuse the information collected, and as with the introduction of other tracking devices such as drones, the legislation governing the use of GPS-enable microchips lags behind. As Weiss notes (2018) ‘… how will lawmakers and experts in security and tech react when required to define consent for a patient with advanced dementia?

With embedded microchip devices that can transmit and receive location and other information over an increasingly wide area, can there be any guarantees that the individual hosting the device will have complete control over who has access to their location information?

Always on: The analysts are watching …

August 25, 2014 2 comments

We recently came across the Moves App, the always-on data logger that records walking, cycling and running activities, with the option to monitor over 60 other activities that can be configured manually. By keeping track of both activity and idle time calorie burn, the app provides ‘ an automatic diary of your life’  .. and by implication, assuming location tracking is always enabled as well, an automatic log of your location throughout each day. While this highlights a number of privacy concerns we have written about in the past (including Location Privacy: Cellphones vs. GPS, and Location Data Privacy Guidelines Released), it also opens up the possibilities for some insightful, and real-time or near real-time, analytical investigations into what wearers of a particular device or users of a particular app are doing at any given time.

Gizmodo reported today on the activity chart released by Jawbone, makers of the Jawbone UP wristband tracking device, which showed a spike in activity for UP users at the time a 6.0 magnitude earthquake occurred in the Bay Area of Central California in the early hours of Sunday 24th August 2014. Analysis of the users data revealed some insight into the geographic extent of the impact of the quake, with the number of UP wearers active at the time of the quake decreasing with increasing distance from the epicentre.

How the NAPA earthquake affected Bay Area sleepers

How the NAPA earthquake affected Bay Area sleepers.

Source: The Jawbone Blog 

This example provides another timely illustration of just how much personal location data is being collected and how that data may be used in ways never really anticipated by the end users. However, it also shows the potential for using devices and apps like these to provide real-time monitoring of what’s going on at any given location, information that could be used to help save lives and property. As with all new innovations, there are pros and cons to consider; getting the right balance between respecting the privacy of users and reusing some of the location data will help ensure that data mining initiatives such as this will be seen as positive and beneficial and not invasive and creepy.

 

 

How much is our personal location information worth?

August 11, 2014 1 comment

Just as the open government data and free public access movement continues to go from strength to strength, it seems that personal data could soon be a new currency in the digital information markets, where companies and other interested parties bid for the right to use that data for their own purposes.

Jacopo Staiano at the University of Trento in Italy recently conducted an experiment to the perceived value of personal location information. The study, reported in the MIT Technology review, involved 60 participants using smartphones that collected a variety of information including the number of calls made, applications used, the participant’s location throughout the day and the number of photographs taken. Using an auction system, the participants were given the opportunity to sell either the raw data or the data after it had been processed in some way to add value. Of all the information collected during the experiment, personal location data emerged as the most highly valued, and perhaps not surprisingly those who travelled more each day generally placed a higher value on their location data than those who didn’t.

Daily median bid values (Euro) per category. Vertical lines indicate interventions.

Daily median bid values (Euro)
per category. Vertical lines indicate interventions. Staiano et al. 2014

The valuable insights into personal behaviour and preferences provided by such information are what compel the marketers to find ever pervasive ways to tap into that resource. Mobile location-aware applications and services are now commonplace and for many recording location data is the default setting; users have to proactively opt out to avoid being tracked. During the course of the experiment the participants were also asked who they trusted most when it came to managing their personal location data; the responses indicated concerns about the trustworthiness of financial institutions, telecom and insurance companies when it came to collecting and using this information.

The research suggests the emergence of ‘.…a decentralised and user-centric architecture for personal data management‘, one that gives users more control over what data is collected, how it is stored and who has access to it. The study also reports that several research groups are already starting to design and build such personal data repositories and it is increasingly likely that some type of market for personal location information will soon emerge.

 

 

The Internet of Things

January 8, 2013 4 comments

Interesting article published by the BBC on the next big frontier for the Internet – the Internet of Things. This next stage in the evolution of the Internet allows us to access and control an increasingly diverse network of devices and sensors, such as personal fitness monitors and many household items. There are applications available now for remotely controlling central heating systems, recording TV and video when we’re not at home, and keeping friends and families informed of our whereabouts. The Ford Motor Company recently announced a new initiative using their in-car connectivity system and an interface to a mobile tracking application, allowing drivers to share their location with friends and family directly from their cars using their smartphones and voice commands.

The early days of the Internet were all about people exchanging  information. Now the technology has evolved to integrate many physical devices, allowing us to use the information collected by these devices to manage our lives more effectively. Almost inevitably, with many such innovations the attendant concerns of privacy and location tracking are raised. If I use my smartphone to adjust the central heating in my home to come on/switch off at certain times, and that information is stored on a network and accessed by others or my phone is stolen, that information could potentially be used by someone trying to gain access to the house when no one is in.

How do we control who has access to our personal information and how can we protect ourselves from individuals and organisations who would seek to use that information without our consent? Many companies and organisations prefer to focus on what these new technologies can do for us and how much more efficient managing our personal location data has become, rather than discussing concerns about the misuse of this information. However, it’s our information so perhaps we should take more responsibility for managing it by securing our smartphones and insisting on a privacy policy based on “Nothing-is-shared-unless-I-say-so”.