Reading Summary (9): Four Billion Little Brothers?

Interactivity & Networking

Four Billion Little Brothers? Privacy, mobile phones, and ubiquitous data collection (2009)

By Katie Shilton 

This article discusses how the data collected on your mobile phone can say an immense amount about what kind of person you are such as your daily carbon foot print to your exercise habits. As an extreme view, mobile phones could become the most widespread embedded surveillance tool in history. The type of research that uses mobile phones to collect data for personal or social projects is called Participatory Sensing, which is used to encourage anyone to gather and investigate previously invisible data. Shilton focuses this article on Participatory Sensing and discusses three applications from UCLA’s Center for Embedded Networked  Sensing (CENS) to illustrate the possibilities of data collecting and sharing concerns.

1.) Personal Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) monitors and calculates mobile carriers carbon footprints and exposure to air pollution, which contains data of date, time, and location of the user.

2.) Biketastic was designed for the bike commuting community in Los Angeles, which uses GPS-enabled mobile phones during a users commute and uploads their route to a public website to be shared.

2.) AndWellness is a personal monitoring tool designed to encourage behavioral change, which helps users work independently (or with a coach) to document places and times when they stray from a healthy eating or exercise plan, which collections data of location and diet habits.

All of these types of applications bring up questions of privacy; who is asking for the data? How much does the data reveal about me? How long will the data be retained? There are a number of risks to using these types of applications such as thieves, stalkers, and invasion of your identity. Ethically it should be  the users deciding whom to reveal this information too.  This is where the responsibility of developers become crucial. At CENS, these concerns are dealt with by Participatory Privacy Regulation; the idea that systems can help users to negotiate disclosure decisions depending on the context. The goal of this program is to give users as much control over their location data as possible, which includes being able to revoke sharing of data with a third-party application. Developers can further protect users by limiting the amount of raw data a user is required to share outside of their personal data vault. This relates to ‘Data Legibility’ that helps users make sense of, and decisions about, their data, which can include showing who has accessed their data. And finally ‘Longitudinal Engagement,’ considers time as a factor that affects privacy in participatory sensing and is related to an users personal habits and routines that are accustom to change over time and therefore altering the data collected in personal data vaults.

In conclusion, lawyers and social scientist will continue working on structural changes to help ensure privacy in participatory sensing, developers must continue in privacy protection in their applications so that four billion little brothers are not watching us.

This article touches on a very popular subject of privacy, which is always in the back of our minds and is never of any real concern. The points made about how developers can further help in privacy by building strong application, where valid and should be considered, but were still centered around the company CENS, which can cause bias and skewed remarks. I feel that if an individual was so concern about their privacy safety that they would take matters into their own hand by researching before agreeing to the requirements in an application. Many people do not let these matters, mentioned in the article, change their decision when downloading an application that can track you via your GPS-enabled mobile phone. If there were any real large concerns about any one particular application and its data sharing abilities, I believe it would be taken off the market.




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