Saturday, March 17, 2012
Indoor LBS – The Applications That Are Changing Our Lives
In Japan, mobile carriers, now equipped with the technology to accurately track children inside and out, offer parents the ability to “geofence” their children’s surroundings. “You can have a child monitoring service,” says Norman Shaw of Polaris Wireless. “You build a geofence around your home or your child’s school or a mall, and if they go outside the environment by more than 50 metres then you, as a parent, receive an SMS.”
Slealthier parents need not even bother the carrier. The Mobistealth website continues: “With Mobistealth Spy Software, you can track their movements in real time, secretly activate the phone to listen in on the surroundings, and monitor all communications including texts, pictures, videos, browsing history, and even recordings of calls. With pricing starting around $.50 a day, Mobistealth is one of the wisest investments any parent can make for the protection and safety of their children.”
Leaving aside what many might consider the irrelevant privacy wishes of the child, when does this type of surveillance spill into ethically murkier territory? When it is in the hands of a jealous spouse, a paranoid employer, an obsessive admirer?
Of course, one can extrapolate out arguments against almost any type of technology on the grounds of its more irresponsible applications – like blaming a crime involving a beer bottle being smashed on a person’s head on the Egyptians for inventing glass. But Tristian Lacroix, boss of location based services consultancy, IndoorLBS, says far from being a small concern on the periphery of the scene, security and tracking are a driving force behind the proliferation of these indoor services.
Nevertheless, he believes the privacy argument has already been won. “It is a non issue,” says Lacroix. “Facebook and Google are already aggregators of information. This is the environment we live in.”
This Facebookification of people’s lives, he believes, has already won the argument against privacy campaigners for ever closer methods of reaching a person whether they are inside a building or out.
For digital natives, not having a Facebook account risks making them or their business an irrelevance, says Lacroix. The implicit understanding is that this creates a social contract which ties the user into this new paradigm. Users do not just understand their relative loss of privacy, they encourage it for the new applications it brings.
This is not an ethical standpoint, rather it is a fact; a technological fait accompli. And it is one of the pillars upon which indoor location based services are set to be propped in the coming 12 months.
Usually, it will be voluntary. The same geofencing scenario described by Shaw, is already being used as a dating service, with the likes of Skout or Grindr alerting users when people are in their area. Both of these services, for straight and gay communities respectively, boast many millions of subscribers. Shaw believes these kinds of services, pioneered by developers in South Korea, will become ever more present in the West in the coming months.
Meanwhile, Lacroix talks about the democritisation of location accuracy, as the chipmakers invest in making hardware which will affordably facilitate indoor LBSs. “This will be the year of the chipmakers,” he says. “We can already make an application accurate enough to tell you what product you are standing in front of in a shop. But this does not necessarily come cheaply.
“The volume chipmakers will change this.” It will, moreover, be the driving force which pushes indoor LBS up that most exciting left hand edge of the bell curve. This will inevitably create the much promised proximity-based retail applications inside shopping centres and airports. Google, says Shaw, has already teamed up with Starbucks to make shoppers’ lunchtime coffee a little more affordable.
But for Lacroix, it will be the platforms upon which these services will be built which will be the most interesting battle.
Google is already the biggest player in the indoor mapping world. But Lacroix says there is hostility to the search goliath’s reluctance to share any of its data. He envisions a situation where application makers can build as many cool gadgets as they like, but as the gatekeeper to the mapping service, Google will simply hoover up all of the advertising revenue, which will be all the more valuable because it will be so well targeted.
Start-ups like Micello and Point Inside, both of which are busily mapping malls and airports, are prepared to make revenue sharing deals with the venues and vendors. A recovering economy, thinks Lacroix, will persuade venture capitalists to make the investments which will ignite the creativity.
An interesting avenue, he thinks, will be growing sophistication in the kind of personal assistant pioneered by Apple through its talking Siri app. In this scenario, your assistant might know you drink double espressos every day at 8.30, realise you are close to a different vendor with a tempting 20% off offer, check you have time in your diary, then suggest you turn right to head there.
Perhaps it might even recognize you are being covertly followed, and suggest you put your phone in the bin.
See the IndoorLBS Report for over 120 companies involved in the indoor location services business here.