inundatation of information about human behavior

I was listening to a podcast this morning – a short talk by Nathan Eagle
on his Reality Mining project. There is also a series of slides associated with the talk.

The implications of the talk were really pretty astounding, especially given the prevelance of cell phones today. Location is known – even if it’s bured in some provider’s database and inaccessible to you. It’s not inaccessible to the government.

Right now, Nathan’s research seemed to be primarily focused on folks who added a little bit of something to their phone to send back information and details about location (Something symbian series 60 phones enable) – because he couldn’t retreive that data from the providers. But he’s also added a data capture mechanism that he’s called “BlueDar” – which scans the nearby and available bluetooth devices. You don’t even need them correlated with specific people to be able to provide some really interesting data in the aggregate. And the interesting thing here is – pretty much most laptops could function as one of those devices (albeit more expensive than his D-link wireless router and custom fab stuff). Interestingly, continuous scanning with the bluedar also drained out the cell phone’s battery pretty quickly.

I’m not sure wether to be astounded and excited, or completely terrified by this whole thing. Yesterday, I was all “Wow, awesome, cool!”, and last night I was “What do you mean they’re watching my every (physical) move and potentially applying statistical analysis to determine my relative worth to the community!?” It’s enough to make you want to be a luddite.

The more I think about it, the more I’m reminded of some of David Brin’s essays about transparency as the only real means of security when it comes to information. It is letting only a few people have the information that is so darn scarey. When everyone has it – you’re just as accountable, its just that everyone knows it. And I rather suspect that his conclusion about privacy is correct: we’re going to loose many senses of it, it’s just a matter of how it happens.

Published by heckj

Developer, author, and life-long student. Writes online at

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