Well, it's 10pm Saturday night and I'm RAS'd in to corpnet. Work won out.
I was digging through a corporate intranet site looking for some technical information, and came across a SharePoint web part that was pulling in a feed of top stories from MSNBC (could it be made any easier to get sidetracked??). This headline caught my eye: Tracking cell phones for real-time traffic data.
There have been pilot research projects like this going on for quite some time now, but this one actually looks like it's headed toward production:
In what would be the largest project of its kind, the Missouri Department of Transportation is finalizing a contract to monitor thousands of cell phones, using their movements to map real-time traffic conditions statewide on all 5,500 miles of major roads.
Wow! This is a step in the right direction toward my vision of location awareness in software. It's not quite there yet, since the cell phones themselves still aren't aware of their own locations, but nonetheless, still a cool collaborative application of software that builds on mobility and location information.
That said, I'm a bit concerned about the privacy implications:
Privacy experts also worry that the traffic monitoring could later evolve into other uses — perhaps to catch speeders or fugitives.
That's because each cell phone has a unique serial number, in addition to its call number and a code that indicates its service provider. A cell phone company must always be able to track the location of its phones in order to know where to route a call.
"It's a mission creep issue that would be of most concern to consumers," said Lillie Coney, associate director of Washington, D.C.-based EPIC. "They may start out saying we want to know if there's a traffic problem and then take that information and start using it for different purposes."
The government will now have the ability to track the movement of cell phones in real time. McCarthy would've had a field day with this toy. "Show me the current location of every cell phone that ever entered this building". Yep - it'll be possible.
"Show me the current location of Adam Herscher's cell phone" isn't a far stretch either. Does the PATRIOT Act allow for this? Will future legislation?
What if a hacker gained access to this information? Google Maps mashup, anyone?