Fear, Desire, And The Inevitability Of Location Services

Many years ago, when you were probably a tween, i was at AOL (sorry, Aol.) and a degree away from the following nugget. I think the folks involved included Ted,¬†Barry Appelman and maybe Eric Bosco. I could have that a bit wrong but roll with me – I’m not the official techstorian and they’ll tell me if I’m wrong.

So the story goes something like this: There was discussion at AOL about possibly allowing members to “see” when their friends were online.

What?? Blasphemy… How dare we? ¬†People TRUST AOL. Privacy would wilt and people would flee the service; there might even be lawsuits. There would at least be tears.

So goes the story, anyway, and it continues that perhaps there were even focus groups or user testing demonstrating that when people were asked if they wanted to be able to be seen online they bit the backs of their hands in horror. No, they said. They would never want that.

Despite all that, a short time later the Buddy List was born, online presence exploded into a necessity and my little anecdote (completely accurate or not) formed.

Reason I bring this up is twofold: Data Privacy Day is Friday and Microsoft has taken the occasion to do a study that reveals – what? – when asked, most people fear more than they desire location services that reveal where they are or where friends are.

In the study a little over half were concerned about sharing their locale with other people or organisations. Just eighteen per cent had used location services to share their location. And while 94% of people who had used LBSs found them valuable about half the people would feel better if they simply had control to manage their own location info.

Well, duh. Here we are again, right back to the assumption that what is incredibly transformational and a little scary needs to be squelched or at least muffled via reports to reinforce a notion. I will not speak about data privacy writ large, but solely about location and the mind-blowingly useful services intelligent dreamers will continue to hatch with it: given simple controls sensible people will use the hell out of them – and the nuts will simply live by them.

So let’s all live together: privacy, control, and the new “presence:” location ;-p

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