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.
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.
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.
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.
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.