How Far is Too Far? (Part 1 of 2)

privacy policy

We know that Netflix keeps track of what films we watch and Amazon knows what books we read. We accept that and find that the service they provide – recommending other films and books – is surprisingly effective and useful.

But let’s look at another example. We can read Google’s privacy policy all we want, but do any of us know the extent of what the search giant knows about us? It gets a bit scarier if you jump ahead five or ten years and think about how far Google’s pursuit of “all the world’s knowledge” will take it. How much of that will be about us, as individuals?

What if the next time you Google yourself an overhead photo of your house were to pop up? There probably is an app for that already, somewhere.

Maybe Google couldn’t get away with doing it, but any fifteen year old geek could do it right now. And so could a startup company, if they could figure out way to make money off it. It’s a simple mash-up of a phone book lookup, Google Maps, and Google Earth. Put these together and — if the satellite happened to have passed by at the precise time – the image could reveal your children playing in your backyard.

Or, suppose as you are walking down the street those ubiquitous security cameras were tracking your movements and suppose someone devised an app that would ring your cell phone with a discount offer from the store you were passing at that moment. Perhaps the discount applied to a high-def TV you were browsing last week. Would that be scary – someone was watching you that closely and was able to match your current location with your Internet surfing?

Actually, someone is doing that right now, though with slightly different technology. In this case, it is your own cell phone that can report your movements, and instead of a phone call they just have an ad pop up your phone. The idea is fairly new – at least to me – but there are already several companies doing it, including Xtify and Placecast.

It is a background app that runs on your iPhone or Droid using the GPS in your phone, sends it up to some server somewhere, which matches it up with a database of paid ads, and then uses “push notification” to display the message on your phone. The term they are using is “persistent location,” which I suppose means that they persist in knowing where we are at all times.

I read an article that said:

“This concept of persistent location is still evolving, and consumers will have to get used to the idea.

My emphasis in bold is added…so they want us to “get used” to the idea? Maybe we should take a step back and think critically before we get too used to it.

Go back to how I started off this section. We would probably agree that having security cameras follow us from place to place is beyond what we would tolerate. Does it make a difference if it is the cell phone in our pocket or purse that is doing the following? Why?

In Part 2 of this column, which will run on January 10, look for more information about ways technology is following us around online. In the meantime, please feel free to leave a comment below.

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Kent Lawson

Kent Lawson is the CEO & Chairman of Private Communications Corporation and creator of its flagship software PRIVATE WiFi. He combined his extensive business and technical experience to develop PRIVATE WiFi in 2010. The software is an easy-to-use Virtual Private Network (VPN) that protects your sensitive personal information whenever you’re connected to a public WiFi network. Follow Kent on Twitter: @KentLawson.

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