“OK Google. Where did I park my car?”

Google Now "Where did I Park my Car?" CardThere appears to be a bit of controversy with some commentators learning exactly what “Favorite Locations” are, as stored by every iPhone handset. What happens is that the number of visits to common locations are recorded, from which, based on time spans and days of week, Apple can deduce your “normal” working location and the address at which you sleep most nights. This is currently stored only in your iPhone handset and apparently not yet used; it is designed to enable services to advise you of traffic conditions to and from work, to be used at some point in the future.

The gut reaction is “Whey! They can see exactly where i’m going all the time!”. Well, yes, your handset can; GPS co-ordinates are usually good for an approx location to a meter or two, you have a compass in there that indicates which way you’re facing, and various accelerometers that can work out the devices orientation in 3 dimensions. The only downside is that the full mix tends to be heavy on battery power, and hence currently used by applications on the phone fairly sparingly.

Some privacy concerns then started to arise. However, I thought it was fairly common knowledge that mobile phone operators (certainly in the USA) could deduce the locations of spectators as being inside a sports stadium, and tell the stadium owners the basic demographics of people present, and the locations from which they travelled to the event. This sort of capability will extend to low power bluetooth beacons which can be positioned in retail outlets, which armed with a compatible application (and your permission to share your data), will give them analysis gold. Full coverage, 365 days a year, to a level that doesn’t need Paco Underhill class analysis (Paco is the author of seminal book “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping“, itself based on years of analysis of customer behaviour in and around retail establishments).

I think i’m fairly cool with it all. Google Android handsets can already sense internally whether you are walking, cycling, on a bus or driving in a car. The whole premise of Google Now is to do searches or to provide service to you before you have to explicitly ask for it. I got quite used to my Nexus phone routinely volunteering commute traffic conditions before I got in my car, or to warn me to leave earlier to hit an appointment in time given current driving (or bus service) conditions on the route I usually took. I was also very impressed when I walked past a bus stop in Reading and Google Now flashed up the eta and destination of the next bus, and a summary of the timetable for buses leaving from that stop.

Google have just released another card on Google Now that automatically notes where you parked your car, and navigates you back to it if you feel the need for it to do so later on.

All of this is done with your explicit permission, and one of the nice things on Android is that if the software vendors data policies change in any way, it will not allow through the update to enable that functionality without explicitly asking you for permission first. Hence why I knocked LinkedIn off my Nexus 5 when they said an update would enable them to collect my phone call data of who I was calling and receiving calls from. I thought that was unnecessary for the service I receive (and pay for) from them.

The location services i’m sharing with a small number of vendors are already returning great benefit to me. If that continues, and service providers are only intrusive enough to help deliver a useful service to me, then i’m happy to share that data. If you don’t want to play, that’s also your call. What’s not to like?

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