Wireless Location Services and Privacy Issues

By Steve Lombardi

Writer's Note: Directions Magazine editor, Joe Francica, has asked me to contribute a regular column on Mobility and Location Based Services.Given that this is what I'm knee deep in every day, I'm happy to have the opportunity to participate.I'd like to begin by asking you, the readers of directions, what subjects you'd like to see me cover.From privacy issues to Wireless Operator status, drop me an email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and let me know what you want to talk about in the area of LBS.I'd like to use this space to 'think big', so no matter how far fetched or sci-fi like your subject, if you'd like to share it with the general public, send it on over.More everyday scenarios are of course welcome, as long as they don't start off "You're walking by a Starbucks and..."! As much as is possible in this medium, I want to make these articles interactive.At the end of each, I'll throw out a broad topic area for next time (hopefully selected from your suggestions) and I invite you to send me your thoughts and ideas on the subject for inclusion in the next installment.

I'll get things started.When visiting in NYC recently over the holidays, a friend suggested we visit the Remote Lounge on Houston.(check it out online at RemoteLounge.com) As soon as you walk in, one is surrounded by black and white monitors everywhere. Rows of them above the bar and on every other wall in the place.As you tune in to see if they are showing hundreds of Seinfeld repeats, you realize they are all surveillance monitors leading you to notice the 100 or so tiny cameras hanging from the ceiling.Here's where the fun starts; at each seat in the place is a set of controls allowing you to tailor your viewing experience.Pull up a seat at the bar and you are facing a four button control panel and a joystick for camera selection and orientation. Change the channel, and your stick is controlling the camera that you are peeking through.A number of more advanced dedicated consoles are set about the place as well.These more cozy workstations feature additional buttons for ordering drinks and messaging others in the space, as well as a telephone hand piece. Not an ordinary telephone - as you change camera, the phone automatically is tuned into the phone at the camera you are controlling. And no need to invite the others at the receiving end to pick up; these phones are really always-on mics and you can voyeuristically listen in undetected whenever you want.Hey, you and your friends can play 'Patriot Act' just like the big boys.

Figure 1: ...and in case you want to "locate" Steve Lombardi, don't forget to look him up!...click on the graphic to find him! (click on the details of his web map in our gallery)

So, all of this might sound a bit creepy...but it's not.After a short while hanging out, interacting (and drinking), it starts to feel quite natural.You realize you're all on equal peeping tom ground as the novelty blends into the experience of moving among the others in the space and communicating at will.To the largely 20 something crowd packing the place this Saturday night, who have been using communications tools like IM, email, and mobile messaging since they were teens, this is a natural feeling evolution.They are less concerned about the potential negative effects of the technology (privacy for instance) as they feel, and in fact are, in more control.I'm not saying they are less concerned about their privacy, but they are more in control of the technology governing their privacy.You've probably at some point heard someone say "I don't like cell phones because sometimes I just like to get away".Haven't they discovered the 'off' button? Chances are good they were older than 30 years.The generation right behind the one making up the majority of us reading these words is completely at ease with having technology play a major part in their lives, beyond the work place where later generations have the most interaction with tech.For them it is empowering, not invasive.

Back at work the next week, I sat in on a very cool demo of a mobile peer to peer video system that worked really well, even over the narrowband of a data connection on today's mobile networks, and fantastic over wi-fi. Of course, I couldn't help but tie this back to my experience at the Remote Lounge, and my vision of what will be possible with Real-time location in the near future.Where these lines meet sits an amazing means of social interaction.Location and presence, combined with personal tastes and preferences, and you have (not so) virtual communities, as tightly knit, if not more so, than you and your immediate next door neighbors.You've probably at some point heard someone (probably older than 40) whine that computers and 'the internet' are making our kids less social.Nothing could be further from the truth - take a look around and spend 10 minutes talking to a couple of 13 - 16 year olds to find out just how vast their social circles are. Are they less social because they don't limit their interactions to the 6 square blocks of their neighborhood like we did growing up? Not at all.

Location is a key bridge between anonymous, impersonal messaging, and warmer 1-1 communication that results from feeling connected.We connect on a better level with someone when they go from being at a random point on Earth, to knowing they are in Georgia.Atlanta.Near Olympic Park.Location helps us feel attached even when we are in Washington.Seattle.Near the Science Center.

This leads to our topic for next time: Real-time location and Presence. A colleague at work created a location based chat bot a few weeks ago. It plugged into MSN Messenger, always sitting at the ready to report his location to anyone who asked.This after an hour of coding in his 'spare time'.Today.Take this capability to the future - what possibilities do you see as it becomes possible for location to play a key role in Presence. Send your thoughts to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Published Thursday, January 29th, 2004

Written by Steve Lombardi

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