How Geo Technology Can Be Used for Control

Photo cred: Jose Maria Cuellar

“Technology … is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other.”

~C.P. Snow, New York Times, 15 March 1971

Check in sites like foursquare and gowalla are taking the web by storm. The concept of sharing your location with others would never have made it a few years ago. Today, people are literally racing to check in the most.

It’s a game! It’s fun. You check in, earn badges, compete against your friends and others, and if you’re the best there may even be physical rewards waiting for you.

Awesome. I love it. Privacy has changed and we need to accept that. Just enjoy the new technology!

I want to pose a different situation though. One where instead of checking into locations for fun, it becomes a requirement.

It can start with society’s establishments that utilize control today. Parents, teachers, coaches etc…

  • Can a coach use foursquare to make sure his players are going to the gym to work out?
  • Can a teacher user Gowalla to see if their students are in the library the night before a test or out drinking? Can they require that you check in instead of taking attendance?  Perhaps they need to attend a play outside of class and the teacher requires they check in when they get there.
  • Can a parent know every place that their kid goes to by making them check in where ever they go?
  • Can the police track convicts who are out on parole?

Take it a step further and look at geo-fencing.  The concept behind geo-fencing is pretty simple; areas are separated by “fences”.  When you cross a fence, your mobile device can automatically receive or send out a notification.  It can also automatically check in.  This way, others can know when you enter, and when you leave a location.

Apparently, parents are already using this to see when their kids leave school.  As soon as they cross the fence around their school, their parents can receive a notification.

Mix geofencing with rfid technology, and you can come up with some crazy stuff.  My friend Alex Tan gives a great example:

“Imagine my refrigerator knowing that my rfid tagged milk was just thrown away, syncing to the cloud and telling my mobile device about my updated shopping list. Then when i get to the store, using geo-fencing, it launches an app to tell me what I need to buy and where it is in the store.”

This IS the future.  The potential to use these technologies to enhance our daily lives is immense.  But the potential to control out daily lives is equally immense.

What if, instead of using technologies ability to track everything in your life for fun, or for utility, it was used by  an entity that had authority over you?  With RFID’s, you won’t even need to have a smart phone.  Anything can be tagged.  RFIDs can be implanted in people.  What if police implanted these chips in criminals?

My point isn’t to come across as one of those “Big Brother is coming” freaks.  Rather, it’s to get you to think about the technology you’re using today and realize its potential.  Realize it’s capacity for entertainment and utility, but also its capacity for other things…for less benevolent things.

When control isn’t in our hands, how will geo technology be used?

3 thoughts on “How Geo Technology Can Be Used for Control

  1. Great thoughts here David.
    I tend to always think only about the upside of the grocery store example, mainly because I can’t remember to bring lists to the store. The examples of abuse are a stark reminder though about how we need to think about what else this technology will make possible.

    Thanks again.

    This is my first time finding your blog and I look forward to coming back.

  2. People who are sharing their location wherever they go have never had to content with a violent ex or an overzealous admirer. If they had they would not be making it so easy for that type of challenge to enter their life because they are much more difficult to get rid of than they are to acquire.

    Big Brother IS here. Unless you remove the battery from your cell phone it can be remotely activated and used to track you and as a listening device. If you have a camera on your computer or phone that can probably be activated remotely as well.

    Products already contain RFID devices and multi-national Corporations have already tested putting GPS devices in boxes of soap and using them to follow the buyer home and “surprise” them.

    Tracking devices can be woven into cloth and are so small they can be hidden in almost anything. Eventually it may be that everything you buy commercially can be used to track your every movement.

    Most don’t realize the dangers in all this. They think no one will ever want to track THEM because they are innocent. I am sure that the many groups who were targeted for death felt the same way. That did not save them and naivete will not save any of us.

    Eventually we may have to make a choice to avoid commercially produced products or even give up the technology we love or give up what freedoms we may still have. Unfortunately, freedom is already more of an illusion than reality.

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