Reality mining: what your phone knows about you

mobile phone close-up The next big frontier for the software and web corporations is in your pocket – your mobile phone. But have you ever wondered why exactly the search giants like Yahoo and Google are so keen to get access to your handset? Sandy Pentland, an MIT researcher, explains in an interview at Technology Review:

“It knows where you are, and this is obviously sort of useful. But the generalization is that maybe it can know lots of things about you. Take your Facebook friends as an example. The phone could know which ones you socialize with in person, which ones are your work friends, and which friends you’ve never seen in your life. That’s an interesting distinction, and reality mining can make it automatic. It’s about making the “dumb” information-technology infrastructure know something about your social life. All this sort-of Web 2.0 stuff is nice, but you have to type stuff in.”

Quite. But as Nicholas Carr points out, that’s not quite as utopian as it might initially seem:

“… it’s easy to see the vast commercial value of automatically harvesting a continuous stream of data on a person’s location, activities, relationships, and social roles and using it to personalize services and advertisements or, in the extreme, manipulate behavior for profit-making ends.”

Well, it’s not like we’re unused to having our behaviour analysed and manipulated for commercial purposes … or to the idea that external agencies can spy on us by subverting our gadgets. But the point is that technologies in their default states are making it much easier – rather than rejecting Big Brother, have we instead slipped him into our back pocket? [Image by Milica Sekulic]

[tags]reality mining, phones, surveillance, technology[/tags]