Ever have the feeling that someone is spying on you?
Today, it’s more likely that you are broadcasting enough information thatanyone can spy on you.
In the most recent issue of Wired magazine, freelance writer Mathew Honan recounts his “I am here”adventures of a “3-week experiment of living la vida local.” Using all the new technology (software and hardware) especially iPhone apps, he demonstrates how easy it is to be constantly monitoring your environment electronically as well as for everybody to know where you are. For example, with the program WhoseHere, you can send your latitude and longitude location and instantly get responses from other people in the area. The responses, needless to say, range from “I’m looking for sex” to “Really great coffee shop.”
Other interesting revelations: “Because iPhones embed geodata into photos that users upload to Flickr or Picasa, iPhone shots can be automatically placed on a map.” In other words, people will know exactly where you were when you took the picture. Interestingly, Honan concludes the article by describing how he almost got into a car accident because he was so busy getting “better location awareness” through his various geo gadgets that he didn’t notice a car (a Prius, of course!) stopping short in front of him. He concludes that technology cannot replace “look[ing] around the old-fashioned way” and keeping a “sense of place.”
Let’s call this the question of geoprivacy.
Leave aside for a moment whether you would want everybody and anybody to know where you are all the time; the fact is that the technology is getting to the point where that will happen anyway. Obviously, one partial solution would be for any in device that creates geolocation markers there should be clear warning labels about the details and the extent to which our movements are being broadcast. In addition, just like in Facebook’s profile feature in which you can limit page views to only friends, there should be a way to encrypt or conceal geolocation features so that only certain people or certain groups of people can read there.
The ethics of listening in (or viewing) other people’s location and images is not so clear cut. If somebody is putting up pictures of themselves for anyone to see (and note the location and time) then:
- how can it been unethical to watch them?
- do you have the right to “republish” the images/words/geolocation to other sites or pass them on?
- do you have the right to comment on images/words/geolocation–perhaps with funny captions?
- do you have a moral obligation to warn somebody when you think their online self-exposure could be dangerous (say, with underage children?)
And just in from Google mail: “Location in Signature.” Marco Bonechi, a Software Engineer at Google has designed a feature for gmail that will automatically include your location (city, region, country) as part of your email signature line.
It’ll use your public IP address to determine your location, so it may not always be that accurate. For example, if you’re at Heathrow airport, IP detection may put you in Germany. If you want more accurate location detection, make sure your browser has a version of Gears that supports the location module. That way, Gears can make use of wi-fi access point signals to recognize that you’re actually in London.
Reporters (and even novelists) have always used location as part of their byelines, as in “This is London…”. But now you can show off where you are, though, I assume somebody will write an app to fake the location.
Originally posted February 10, 2009 at PolicyByBlog
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