Hello 1984 – I know where you are, where you were (and where I want you to be)


Hello 1984 – I know where you are, where you were (and where I want you to be)

While subscribing to Inc.com’s newsletter recently, I was surprised to see that their mailchimp procedure could also store latitude and longitude coordinates. Being from an older generation (°1967) I only just got used to sharing the IP address of my computer…

In 1948 George Orwell wrote his novel of a totalitarian future society. I was 17 years old when Eurythmics performed their “1984’ song in, well, 1984. So, the on-going loss of privacy in the current internet and smartphone environments always surprises me a bit.

Next to sharing all their secrets and personal thoughts on-line, the “internet” generations (or the “unknowledgeables”) appear to have no problems whatsoever that computers or smartphones also continuously track their locations. Some of them even fully endorse it, see the “I’m at XYZ” tweets through foursquare logins.

So, is this loss of location information a good thing or a bad thing?

One example I do not dislike is how smartphones’ accelerometers are used to track bumps and holes in the streets of Boston. The “Street Bump” app detects the potholes and automatically alerts city officials of the exact pothole locations, if at least three people hit a bump in the same spot (http://wirelessweek.com/News/2012/07/mobile-content-App-Detects-Potholes-Alerts-Boston-City-Officials/).

Endorsing myself the power and opportunities that go with this full-blown, permanent, individual GPS localization, I developed a GPS visual speedometer (http://www.slideshare.net/MvanWunnik/gps-visual-speedometer). This idea is currently under technical and economical consideration with the 3D print Productlab from Idealabs (www.idealabs.be) and will soon have 200 students brainstorming on it during a Mega-Brainstorm session (October 4th 2012).

On the other side of my own spectrum, we have Cathy Coughlin, AT&T Marketing Chief, views on the digital (fully connected) home in an interview by Fortune Magazine (September 3rd, 2012).

“If your son or daughter comes home and the door is locked, you can activate your camera, unlock the door, and see them go in”. Up to here, I am fully convinced of the benefits, but then Cathy Coughlin adds: “You can watch them do their homework”.  Ouch! Being a father of two sons (turning 11 next Friday and almost 14), this sounds creepy to me…

What form of responsibility education do you give to your kids if you feel required to check (spy?) on them that way? How do you evaluate their self confidence and self discipline? At last but not least, what goes on in these kids’ minds and where will it lead them later in life, knowing that they are under “perpetual control” by their parents?

[ To be clear, I am fully aware that in many occasions, family time cannot be freely allocated today. I just believe that AT&T’s views are not the best way forward. Alternatives should be considered like flexible working schedules, working at home, management by objectives, or re-think completely our current business environment while we are at it and make it sustainable over the long run.]

Getting targeted ads on your smartphone while walking down the streets is another example. Being active in the Brussels’ tech community, I also have seen several projects in the area of “people walk on the streets and perform a scan with their smartphone to …”.

Now, combine the existing localization “leaks” with the upcoming predictive big-data trends, and we might get to situations where software will also tell (or try to direct) us where to go in a near future.

You can stay indifferent and go with the ‘I do not care’ flow, or you can try keeping your own latitude and longitude coordinates private at any time. Because the latter will probably be more and more complicated to do with the upcoming technological “improvements”, you better quickly adjust to the former. I know I will.