Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Tracking phones...

I love the main stream press, they're so last century. I've just stumbled across an article in the Guardian where the journalist involved seemed surprised and scared that you can track a mobile phone online without the owners knowledge. Well, without their knowledge so long as you have ten minutes physical access to their phone at least...

He thought the entire thing was so scary, or perhaps his Editor did, that he refused to name the service that he was using. But in the UK he'll almost certainly have been using FollowUs, Verilocation or MobileLocate, although for all I know there are probably half a dozen more kicking around these days.

This isn't a big deal, or rather it is a big deal but it's been around and available to the public since the late 90's. I remember fiddling with a now long defunct service back when I acquired my first GSM handset on Orange back in 1995 soon after the network launched.

If this is an example of how far behind the leading edge the mainstream press actually is, no wonder they don't talk about interesting stuff like the possibilities that ubiquitous computing offer.

There are two solutions to the data privacy issues raised by phone tracking, and the overwhelming amount of CCTV surveillance we now have to put up with, you either give nobody access to the data or you give everyone access to the data.

If everyone had access to all of the data all of the time, then at worst at least you know what other people know, at best you can use the information to make your life better. Wouldn't it be nice to check the camera monitoring a side-street for miscreants before you walk down it, directly from your mobile phone? Wouldn't you like to be able to check the traffic cameras on your drive home, before you leave work? Wouldn't that improve the your quality of life?

If only the government has access, then there really is no hiding place. But if everyone has access, maybe there is no need to hide...

Update: Of course there is a downside to ubiquitous access to data, John Battelle (via InsideGoogle) links to an thought provoking flash video on the ACLU site which shows what could happen. Of course if it's going to happen anyway, and database federation probably will, why should the government and large corporations be the only ones to have access. Don't you want to know what they know?

Update: I've also just stumbled across the discussion in the International Herald Tribune of a recent article by Jonathan Glater of the New York Times on internet anonymity. Both the discussion and the original article makes interesting reading...

Update: I guess the Guardian got its story from Reuters, as a similar sort of piece has just shown up in ZDNet (via Slashdot) credited to them. Or did it work the other way around, did the Guardian sell the rights for material to Reuters? Interesting the way these things propagate, it's almost as complicated as the blogosphere...

Update: Looks like this just got regurgitated by the BBC, and then picked up by Slashdot, again. There's no news like old news!