Archive for April, 2010

The location of information sources is useful information itself. Where information is published can be valuable in many ways. Hyperlocal news services are one example. They benefit from the ability to aggregate news information based on the source of that news.

Another interesting application is in mapping source information about a particular subject. I came across an interesting blog post from InSTEDD (Innovative Support to Emergencies Diseases and Disasters). Their recent blog post illustrates the value of mapping source information on a map.  In the post they show recent information tagged with ‘influenza’ by location.  They have then overlain a representation of  the data using what is called a heat map.

It should be clear that in this particular example the InSTEDD results are not necessarily pointing to events of influenza itself but they do show patterns of information dissemination that tell their own story for those knowledgeable in this field.  Depending on the nature of the source posts, the mapped results could provide useful information about the underlying issue or simply provide insight into the patterns around the actual post sources themselves.   In either case, map representation can aid in the interpretation of the results.

One of the underlying requirements for mapping data is the need to somehow attach a location to data – in this case the location of sources who published information about influenza.  This location information has to be in a form that will allow an association with a point or region in order for it to be represented on a map.   The technical term for this is geocoding and it is fundamental to all location based services or applications.

There are a number of ways in which geocoding can be accomplished.  They vary in method, degree of difficulty, accuracy and cost.  In a future post, I intend to discuss geocoding in more detail and provide and overview of various approaches that are being used.

Location base services have emerged as one of the trending wireless application areas and as new applications emerge, the conversation about user privacy grows.

With respect to LBS, the privacy issue revolves around the need to make a user’s location known.  Location awareness allows the user to benefit from the application or service but on the downside, making ones location known can bring on a potential range of unintended, unpleasant or even dangerous results for the user.  So for LBS providers, a key question is how to balance the collection, use and dissemination of user location and related information so as to provide benefits without serving up or facilitating unintended results.

While the discussions around this topic are many, I found it encouraging that the CTIA – a leading representative for the wireless industry association recently published “Best Practices and Guidelines for Location Based Services” which focuses on user privacy and information security.  The document is intended for LBS providers with an objective to ensuring the LBS applications being developed and offered to users promote and protect user privacy.

The guidelines are developed around two fundamental principals – user notice and user consent and state:

  • LBS Providers must ensure that users receive meaningful notice about how location information will be used, disclosed and protected so that users can make informed decisions whether or not to use the LBS and thus will have control over their location information.
  • LBS Providers must ensure that users consent to the use or disclosure of location information, and LBS Providers bear the burden of demonstrating such consent. Users must have the right to revoke consent or terminate the LBS at any time.

Specific elements of the guidelines include:

  • Provision of notice to users
  • Obtaining user consent and allowing users to revoke their consent
  • Establishment of information safeguards

As the guidelines points out, there are many groups who could be the LBS provider so the challenge will be to bring about concensus on appropriate guidelines and then broad adoption.  It is encouraging that the industry is take steps to meet these challenges.   From an industry and individual provider perspective, I believe proper attention is key to healthy growth.

If you are an LBS provider I encourage you to read and consider how to implement the guidelines. While there is nothing binding about the CTIA guidelines, they are encouraging LBS providers to self-certify for the benefit of users.