Monday, May 7, 2007

Mobility, Geolocation, Identity and Privacy

April 26 edition of The Economist carries a 14-page insert on the evolving wireless revolution, focusing on wireless sensors and gadgets, their military and civilian applications. Presumably, connecting things without wires will bring greater communications and deployment efficiencies and versatility.

As machines talk to other machines, they may uncover facts and relationships that are not apparent to people. That may enable factories to “learn” and find ways to become more efficient. What happens on the factory floor will make its way, in a different form, to office buildings and homes. The next step is for wireless technology to enter human beings themselves.

In an earlier blog entry, I wrote of an intelligent scaffoldings that a super mobile-and-wired network mesh can create infused with self-connecting wireless devices and drawing on a service-rich network infrastructure.

Some concers about this type of technology linger. Here's Economist's rendition of one of these concerns.

A greater concern in the long term is privacy. Today's laws often assume that privacy is guaranteed by a pact between consumer and company, or citizen and state. In a world where many networks interconnect on the fly and information is widely shared, that will not work. At a minimum, wireless networks should let users know when they are being monitored.

Yes, privacy matters when a lot of in-formation is available about certain individuals while similar information about others is fully hidden. (In a real village, everyone knows similar things about everyone else, and any privacy stops at one's door, if there.)

When it comes to sensors, the question is how privacy-valuable is the information regarding a person's body temperature, place in the world and the acceleration by which they are moving. (Yes, this data can be used maliciously but I'm certainly willing to carry a SunSpot if that makes someone happy.)

This type of argument does not get into the heart of the matter. For example, this type of information can hardly reveal how willing I might be to go visit a friend, watch a particular movie or stay put. This type of information may, on the other hand, give some useful clues to my doctors, for example, if I suffer from some malignant disease or if I'm a rare, endangered species of tiger. (Yes, all tigers are endangered these days.)

So, I think the privacy issue may be a bit exaggerated, and I think we have to be aware that in-formation about someone does not necessarily mean any real knowledge about that person.

No comments: