A View from Tom Simonite
Friendly Surveillance by Cell Phone
Intel shows off a technology concept that would show what friends are doing, and where, in real time.
The Intel group has been doing ethnographic research to inform their design, following people around and noting down their actions, to help users think about what kind of information they want to share.
“Knowing that people may be glancing at your avatar is very different to your pushing out updates as you might with Facebook or Twitter,” says March. It’s the difference between broadcasting what you want people to know you are thinking or doing and allowing them to know at any moment what you’re actually up to.
The Intel project may only be a design concept for now, but all the kinds of data shown in the demo are accessible, For example, by tapping into a handset’s microphone it is possible to recognize the hubbub of a crowd, or music. “Combining sound input and GPS could show that you are in a car, or a train, for example,” says March, “and we can of course know what you are doing on the phone at any time.”
As for privacy, March points out that basic activity recognition could help ensure only true friends know what you’re up to. “As well as the algorithmic recognition of what you are doing, there’s also a level of human intuition,” she explains. Even minimal information about a close friend is enough for us to infer with reasonable accuracy exactly what she is doing, because we know so much about her routines and habits. “In some ways that extra layer is also a privacy shield,” says March.