Wired up and ready to go

There’s something about the magazine Wired I can’t quite like. Maybe it’s their extreme techno-fetishism and incessant belief in the redeeming qualities of technology. And this is coming from a techno-optimist.

However, this piece on location-aware cell phones with built-in GPS is an example of when they get things right. The writer tests exatcly how much information he can get (and give away) by using his iPhone and some applications that use the GPS information. Turns out it’s a lot. Just by hooking his phone up to some map software, he was able to receive more information than he needs:

I was starting to revel in the benefits of location awareness. By trusting an app (iWant) that showed me nearby dining options, I discovered an Iraqi joint in my neighborhood that I’d somehow neglected. Thanks to an app (GasBag) that displayed gas stations with current prices, I was able to find the cheapest petrol no matter where I drove. In Reno, one program (HeyWhatsThat) even gave me the names and elevation profiles of all the surrounding mountains. And another (WikiMe), which displayed Wikipedia entries about local points of interest, taught me a thing or two about the San Francisco waterfront. (Did you know the Marina District exists largely because a land speculator built a seawall in the 1890s?) These GPS tools were making me smarter.

However, all this comes at a price. When you use these applications to get information based on where you are, you’re also giving a lot of information about yourself away:

To test whether I was being paranoid, I ran a little experiment. On a sunny Saturday, I spotted a woman in Golden Gate Park taking a photo with a 3G iPhone. Because iPhones embed geodata into photos that users upload to Flickr or Picasa, iPhone shots can be automatically placed on a map. At home I searched the Flickr map, and score—a shot from today. I clicked through to the user’s photostream and determined it was the woman I had seen earlier. After adjusting the settings so that only her shots appeared on the map, I saw a cluster of images in one location. Clicking on them revealed photos of an apartment interior—a bedroom, a kitchen, a filthy living room. Now I know where she lives.

Another interesting example, although not quite the same: A map of Tweets updated during the US Superbowl tournament: Twitter Chatter During the Superbowl We live in interesting times.

PS: Wired also has this piece up, on the buses in Oslo running on sewage methane. How come tech geeks in the US know about this, but I haven’t seen anything on it here in Norway?

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One Response

  1. On a related note, also by wired:
    http://blog.wired.com/business/2009/02/google-latitude.html

    Who would voluntarily use something like that..?

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