TINSTAAFL: Tapping into Volunteered Location Data

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Ever wish they would fill-up the pothole quicker?  Municipalities are creating apps to allow the crowd to give them up-to-date notification of problems in the street.  This is in addition to the automated systems that tap into the stream of GPS and cell phone signals to monitor for real-time traffic issues.  “The New Jersey center offers a glimpse at the power of "big data," a term for techniques to gather reams of computerized information points, analyze them and spit out patterns, often in easy-to-understand visuals like maps or charts. While some industries have used big-data methods for years, what's new is the massive scale of data being generated now thanks to the proliferation of networked gadgets like mobile phones and the growing power of computers to store and make sense of data quickly and more cheaply.”  They do want you to keep the cell phone on in the car, but hands-free only please.

And it is not only the government that wants those cell phones on, but the wireless providers would like you to keep all your portable devices at the ready.  Boingo is starting to offer a service to retailers that track shopper patterns based on the wifi signals being broadcast as they move around the mall.  “… Wi-Fi technology also lets the network operator keep tabs on what users are doing—from where they're standing to what websites they're viewing. That lets retailers learn in what aisle shoppers are most likely to point their iPhone's Web browser to Amazon.com. Mall owners have a new way to judge which storefronts attract the most foot traffic. And owners of Wi-Fi networks can turn their antennas into virtual billboards, charging a premium for ads sent to users' phones in prime locations.”  These kind of billable service offerings are one of the drivers behind the new free full network wifi access offers, including this month from Boingo.  Not only to they have access to your location to offer localized ads, but – as the ISP – they also have access to what sites you are visiting while you surf.  Time to brush-up on those free VPN services if you want to keep your mobile web history private.

And note that a battery driven gadget to support wireless is quickly becoming passé, as wireless can now be driven by radio waves found in the environment.  “Instead of the typical tens of milliwatts, the little transmitters require only a few microwatts of power, which can be harvested from environmental radio waves through LC resonance.”  So you might want to remain aware of just what sensors are included with that new stuff that is so, so cheap.  There is a reason the price is so low:  TINSTAAFL