Wednesday 11 March 2009

Can you see me now?

Matron, having long suspected that in less than ten years' time all children of this great country will be micro chipped, has pondered on more than one occasion what her own youth would have looked like if her dad had known at all times where she was (bleak is the answer to that, very bleak).

But as we all know, there will now be no need for invasive surgery due to the versatility of the GPS enabled mobile phone which is, of course, the ideal tracking device. And while we are blissfully becoming more and more dependent on the darn things, services have sprung up all over the country that allow others to track our whereabouts by triangulating our coordinates. As far as children are concerned, this has to be an almost fail safe method as no one over the age of 8 will want to be seen dead without a shiny high spec mobile device. So far, so 1984.

But at least, until now, a large number of people (including even some pesky parents) have not actually been all that aware of the tracking properties of their toys so that their potential for surveillance has not really been fully explored.

Enter the dragon, in the shape of Google Latitude, the latest offering of they who must not be evil. The service allows users to register their mobile phone number with Google, which will then track their location as they go about their daily business. Now while this may be a good things if one wants to be found after being buried by an avalanche, Matron thinks that the use Google envisages is decidedly a little creepy. Because Google wants you to use this as a social networking tool so that, as with other social networking applications, users can determine who will be able to follow their movements. Google's examples for people you may want to give that level of access to your life include the loving husband who can use it to see if his wife has left work yet (so that he knows when to start cooking dinner - very PC, if Matron may say so) and your friends who may want to check if you're in the neighbourhood at the moment, so that they can meet you for a beer.

Apart from the obvious privacy issues, Matron can't help thinking that this could make for a lot of very embarrassing incidents. It may just be her, but there are many situations where Matron does not really want to be found. Like last weekend, when she and her partner pretended to have a prior engagement to get out of having to attend a hen do. It was bad - and embarrassing enough that we then ran into the bride-to-be in a local shopping centre on the very night, but imagine that the bride could sit there and determine the location of everyone who had denied her invitation. With Google Latitude, the end of the little white lie could very well be nigh, with dire consequences for human interaction.

Of course, it could be argued, that you can always limit other people's access to the tracking function when you don't want to be found. But gosh, another thing to think about before leaving the house, when Matron is already at an age where she needs to check three times if she turned the gas off? Also, never mind that this could be a stalkers dream, there is such a thing as social pressure. If this takes off, not only will your "friends" bully you into allowing them access - so will your mother. Or, later in life, possibly your boss.

This scenario was not lost on a group of MPs who, according to The Register signed an Early Day Motion on Monday expressing their concern about the new service. Of course, early day motions being what they are, nothing will come of this. So, would it be presumptuous for Matron to suggest that this may be one the Information Commissioner should take a closer look at?

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