Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Once more unto the breach.....

After a couple of years away I am returning to the OS Partner event this year, partly to present (of which more anon) and partly to participate in a community for the most part silent on the challenges and opportunities likely to emerge from the OS's new business strategy.

Far be it from me to lift the skirts on my presentation but if you were at the MapInfo User Group you'll have a sense. Somehow I have ended up in the technology innovation stream but as technology presentations tend to err on the dull side (or the "look at me" side which can be just as irritating) but that will only be the jumping off point to endeavour to link partners, strategy and technology.

As has been said this week on GeoReport (currently the site is down but typically found at www.geoplace.com) responses to the survey over whether government should fund geographic data collection specifically yielded some (to some) surprising comments of the kind that feed the debates that will I am sure in some instances rage over the next day and a half in of all places St Albans.

Wet and windy - two short tales

Last week, Force 7 in the Solent, Sunsail 37 underfoot and a scratch crew - sounds like things could go wrong - far from it, with a 4th in one race (12 starters) - and a great time had by all and but for a few salt splashes pretty dry all things considered - credit to the skipper there.

Roll forward to sunday just gone and as you may have noticed it has been a windy old week and their were white horses on the lake at Theale. Enough to bring a smile to a sailor's face, 5 ears now in (on?) the RS400, the good ship "Yellow Peril", should be quick and fun. Oh dear - great start, lousy decisions, huge gust - swim. It didn't get any better in the afternoon and were soon ensconced in the bar.....

Friday, 1 May 2009

LBS - Location Based State?

Is it just me or does there seem to be a flurry of geoweb and overlapping cultural-political goings-on?

Some of the more visible ones:

- reports into our surveillance society - http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/data_protection/detailed_specialist_guides/surveillance_report_final.pdf
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmhaff/58/58i.pdf
http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/data_protection/practical_application/surveillance_society_full_report_2006.pdf
http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/data_protection/practical_application/surveillance_society_appendices_06.pdf
for the brief versions: http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/data_protection/practical_application/surveillance_society_public_discussion_document_06.pdf
http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/data_protection/practical_application/surveillance_society_summary_06.pdf

- Firefox 3.5 chooses Google LS (Latitude) over Skyhook's Geode (http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/04/30/google-becomes-default-location-provider-for-firefox/ for example)

- LBS "is going to be huge" (lots of people very frequently for more than a decade)

- Home Office's "communications consultation"
http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/cons-2009-communications-data?view=Binary

- phorm's behavioural advertising service and associated shenanigans (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8021661.stm)

Until really quite recently we and our governments have typically thought about the data held about us as being something that might be interrogated "after the fact" for any number of reasons - marketing, health risk, "behaviour" and so on. Many of the real time data that we value (for example, intelligent traffic systems) are about place and not the "beneficiary" as an individual (yet).

However, it is clear that location is playing an ever more important part of every data architecture; location information of one kind of another exists within 80% or more of all data by some measures, a fact that can increasingly be exploited at the level of the database (Oracle, MySQL et al).

Only the other day my plastic card (with the same name as that stamp in your passport you need to get into lots of countries) was stopped in Milan airport - 40 frustrating minutes later I could get my euros - apparently we all have to call them before we go anywhere, for our own security! Like to see how their customer service teams would put up with the volume of calls if that were even partly true - I had used it in Italy not 3 weeks earlier.

Anyway, "they" knew where I was and used it in real time; they do the same in 24 and Spooks and Enemy of the State if you are looking for conspiracy. Plugging into calendars, booking systems, Dopplr et al and "they" could have known where I was going to be, I would have my Euros in seconds and be none the wiser as to the underpinning data flows and analysis.

The Home Office wants ISPs and others to "record" all communications for later retrieval where reasonable grounds exist to do so. It is not a very big stretch to see this as extending to every "presence" technology including those location enabled by Geode, Latitude etc .

The jury is still out on whether there is a genuine pot of gold at the end of location based services rainbow - most of the people most of the time are in locations that they know perfectly well; if they are not lost, we know they are not willing to pay you to let them now where is the nearest whatever or known unknown (sorry, social networking "friend") however targeted the advert. Question really is how big is the pot who are (willing to pay)?

But just imagine what government and their agencies and Ballardian proxies (i.e. private security structures - and with identity theft taxing the financial industry that includes them too) would make of a real time locational infrastructure........with apologies (of sorts) to Kitchener, "your country really could communicate with you"!

Insurance companies already offer reduced premiums if you install certain technologies in your car and are seen to adhere to the various "rules"; all kinds of commercial and control scenarios open up:

- "Betty, don't go near there" (from Good Morning Vietnam but equally applicable for public safety - floods, cliffs, old mineshafts etc though goodness knows where liability lies - and for conspirators everywhere for "public safety" - protests, festivals, queues)
- SMS alert "this is your private health insurer advising you of a rise in your premiums owing to your continued purchase of XXXX" (select your dietary/other habit)
- automated call "we believe you are on your way to an unlawful gathering"
- "you are going to be late for your train" (the next train button almost does this if you know where you are in relation to the station and your current mode of transport).

They would even pay for those messages to be delivered ..... making LBS pay!

Would of course backfire, think Minority Report - but I wouldn't get my card blocked so why would I worry.....

Or maybe it's all just a bit of friday lunch-time frivolity?