Nowhere to hide

October 31, 2007 at 3:00 am 2 comments

Thailand - treeI struggle with our connected world. Here I am blogging away and if ThinkingShift readers (all two of you!) ever took the time to look for identifying data in what I blog about, you could probably build up a reasonable picture of me. So I am one of millions in the blogosphere leaving trails of information behind. But when it comes to mobile phones, I hate them. I have one for emergency purposes only really. I don’t like receiving calls and I don’t like the idea that I can be tracked or the notion that because one has a mobile, ergo there’s an expectation that you can be reached 24/7.

I have a presence on MySpace and on Facebook, where I think I now have 3 friends, up one from 2 friends. But I don’t use either social networking site because once again I’m a bit reluctant to wade in there and share information about me, which it seems to me is the core of these sites – here I am, this is all the stuff about me, here’s my photos, here’s my friends, here’s where I’m going on the weekend. Too much information out there about me makes me nervous. And I admit I can be quite secretive at times.

And with advances in mobile phone technology, it’s becoming apparent that whilst they can be used as a social mapping device (knowing where you and your family are), they can also mean that you have nowhere to hide. Buddy Beacon is an example of a service that leverages the GPS chips embedded in most mobile phones and uses Google mapping technology. So you can exchange information about your current location with family, friends and business colleagues. Parents can track kids. Loopt is another example – you can locate friends on a map, receive alerts when friends are nearby, share events and favourite places, tag photos with location. All good. No argument. It means that someone like me, with zippo directional sense, can be guided by a GPS in my car to wherever I’m going. It means that parents might have some peace of mind knowing than can track the kid.

But it also means you really can’t hide these days. Sometimes you just want to be alone, safe in the knowledge that your whereabouts is your own business and not known by your 1,794 friends (and are these dudes listed as friends on Facebook really your friends?? you know them all?).

I keep getting back to the fact that we’ve become a voyeuristic society. We like to watch, track, locate. Awhile back I did a post called Are we always alone when we think we are? This was one of my highest rating posts for October. I’d love to think this was due to the subject matter (surveillance cameras and privacy) but I suspect not. In that post, I had a link to a video that rather dramatically showed that you can get caught out in public change rooms – it was a video of a young woman undressing in presumed privacy. Over 2,000 people clicked onto this video link – on this day I had more than 2 readers :)- Now, I’m not suggesting those 2,000 or so people are all voyeurs (although maybe!), but it’s interesting that this was such a popular link. It suggests that as public space continually shrinks we are participating more and more in the private space of others. Some of us I think welcome it – the younger generation (ie those under 20 these days!) seem to have no issue with sharing a wealth of private data in public space. Some of us have issues with it.

Which focuses me back on what I’m supposed to be blogging about! The ability to be tracked by that innocent looking mobile phone in your hands raises all kinds of privacy issues – your boss gives you a work mobile so there is the expectation that you can be mapped even on weekends I suppose if the phone is on; family members you’d prefer to keep at a distance could be a whole lot closer by knowing your whereabouts; that boyfriend you just told to take a running jump could keep tracking you; maybe you’re sitting quietly alone in a park when suddenly a good friend materialises in front of you because they found your location (maybe you just wanted to be alone). Of course, I realise (hope) that the power to invite people into your social network rests with you, so to some extent you can choose who knows what you’re up to. And if you’re meeting friends for dinner and you’re running late, they can check on a map how far away you are and how long they have to wait for you to show up.

But then…let’s keep in mind something. If your friends know where you are, so does the mobile telephone company service you’re using. And while we all probably think such advances in technology are great, there will be implications down the track, new privacy risks, new ways of hacking into private information, security issues and so on.  Source: International Herald Tribune.

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Entry filed under: Privacy, Social networks, Surveillance society.

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