it begins.. location

So, today I’ve mostly been musing about location on mobile services.


It’s my general belief that most people don’t want their location automatically tracked. Not so much a “privacy” issue but one of self-representation. It would be great to have a service combining information about my friends so I can meet them for a beer – this has been a component of just about any mobile social/advertising/etc. pitch for the last few years – but there are two main issues with even getting it off the ground.

i) If you display some kind of “Click ACCEPT to allow us to track your current location..” message then many, many people won’t click it. (Note that if you tuck this away in some 20-page terms appendix it’s unlikely to be looked favourable on..)

ii) If you allow people to be “invisible” and as such untracked then they will never remember to become “visible” again.

This is because I want all the benefits of viewing the real-time positions of my friends, but not the downside of them knowing where I am. The only solution being self-sacrifice or perhaps, forced compliance.. As most people view their mobile as the most private thing they have (just look at mobile search terms for an indication of how private some people believe the mobile to be..) we can assume that this would be an invasion of this privacy.. If “they” know my location then what else could “they” know?

So what’s left? Most people are happy to set their location when and if they want to be found.

It’s possible to take advantage of this in several ways – most of them being a variant of “Set my location” e.g. I’d like to search for starbucks in Hamburg or I’d like to find friends in Manchester. Perhaps an automated location setter like Dopplr is a good solution as it gives me a feed that is non-specific enough to share – which is a good start for the two examples above.

You could argue that I could share my specific location only with my friends – but as any social network user can testify, your “facebook friends” do not often equal the people you’d like to share intimate details such as your *exact* movements with. Even if they have seen those photos of you semi-naked at a party.

You could argue that some kind of friend-grouping and permissions system could be implemented and technically yes, but I should imagine that nobody would use it as it would be fantastically complicated in practise. Plus, if you’re a member of more than one network the configuration management complexity increases exponentially 😉

So. Is there a solution? I don’t think we can use that word until we properly define the problem we are trying to solve. As many of the proposals we’ve seen so far seem like a case of trying to create a need it’s probably something we haven’t thought of yet.



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