We Know How You Got There

car.gifWith the rumored release of the next-generation iPhone coming next week has come a spate of sub-rumors about the iconic device carrying true GPS, deeper integration with Google Maps, augmented reality applications and other, similar predictions and fantasies. If even some of it comes to pass, the growing drip-drip of location-based applications that has been sparked by falling GPS prices, increased integration in mobile devices and a steady trickle of mapping technologies could turn into a flood, taking us into a totally new phase of location-related technology interaction.

One outcome of this growth has been the increased amount of location data available, and a new focus on ways to collect, interpret and use that data, giving birth to the new area of reality mining. By using location and movement data, researchers at different institutions and companies are using reality mining to understand everything from the nature of real social networks to preferred modes of transportation to gaining better insights into epidemiology. More than simply looking at limited sets of data from individuals' mobile phones, reality mining looks for patterns in large sets of movements in order to design better solutions for our lives. Of course, group learnings can also be applied to the individual level, delivering everything from more accurately targeted advertising to more timely security responses to threats.

Privacy will be an increasingly important issue as reality mining moves into the commercial/governmental sphere. Questions of tracking individuals, ascertaining information about not only place but mode of behavior ("We know the suspect took a bus to the victim's house, not drove, because of the speed and pattern of his movement, your honor", or "You must have been drunk because of the path you took from here to there") will be raised. Might you get an SMS ad on your mobile offering you discounted energy water because it's hot and you are walking, versus a discount on gas because you have been driving non-stop for a long period of time? Doubtless we'll see both of these examples in the future. For now, just know that you may soon become a Sim in someone else's analysis.

Ed Note:  Two days after writing this, word has come out about a project to track 100,000 mobile users outside the US in a reality mining research project. More will undoubtedly surface.