ECONOMY + SOCIETY

'Where are you?'

A phrase soon to become passe'
by Suzi Jenkins   (issue no. 132/2010 / November 18, 2010)

?Give me a ring and tell me where you are.' ?What time did you get there?' ?Who's there with you?' All these phrases are destined to the fate of the Dodo bird, the typewriter and Pac Man. Mobile geolocation is here. And it's accurate, real-time based, turn-offable and quite clearly the way of the future.

 

Now a quick step back and some clear English for the technologically challenged: today's smart phones are all equipped with a global-positioning chip, which means that either by satellite positioning or cell site triangulation, the phone can nearly pinpoint your exact position on the face of the globe. Still not clear? Let's try again. We can know where you are, who you are with and what you are doing.

 

But it's not as Big Brother as it may sound (see box). By using always-on mobile devices, that is, your phones, notebooks, iPads, and the like, and integrating real-time positioning with software applications (apps) such as Foursquare, Gowall, Brightkite, Latitudes or Places, anyone can share his or her physical position or learn a friend's whereabouts. Meeting friends at 10-ish for a coffee at Bar Mario, but not sure when anyone is arriving? As soon as you arrive, Foursquare it on your mobile and your friends will receive the information, stop window-shopping and rush to your side.

This is an example of a simple way to use the technology. Imagine the bar owners who would like to offer deals like a free coffee to anyone who checks into their venue five times a week. Or even a free cocktail for groups of 10 or more that check in together. Moreover, with this technology, I can drink my cocktail and then leave a ?tip' for others curious about the venue (?great drinks, but small and overcrowded'). Another user can access that information and use it to decide whether to go there. On some of the apps, once at a venue I can even ?tag' other people who are with me, provided their privacy settings allow me to do so.

 

Let's consider how this app might work in Florence and its surrounding area. Geolocation currently works well in places where many people pass through in a short amount of time: bars, clubs, museums, restaurants, famous monuments and historical buildings. Florence has no shortage of any of these. In a very forward-looking move, the Tuscan Regional Council collaboratively opened a brand page, Visit Tuscany, on Foursquare (http://foursquare.com/visittuscany), to which users can add places to visit, comment, see how many others have been there; they can also add the attractions to their ?to do list.' Potentially, a user can generate tours in Florence and its environs based on history, culture, food and wine, sun and sea, shakin' and jivin'-whatever one likes-all free of charge. The benefits for all public entities, private business and users alike are infinite.

This is just the beginning of something destined to becoming very, very big. Moreover, Florence and Tuscany are ideal for these kinds of tools: there a million things to discover, some to avoid, lots of news to share and loads of advice to pass on.

 

 

The Big Brother ISSUE

 

All social media, including geolocation apps, come with a privacy panel that must be managed. All geolocation apps can be turned off, even just temporarily and some, such as Google Latitudes, even allow users to manually register where they would like the app to indicate they are-even if they are somewhere else (the very helpful and very deceitful possibilities are endless). Common sense dictates that one should share one's physical whereabouts with only real-life friends, not virtual acquaintances, and certainly not virtual strangers. However, the default privacy settings may be at the lowest level of privacy protection, which is to say none at all. If you are a thief by trade, you may find that the new mismanaged geolocation apps are so much more useful than hanging around on cold, rainy and windy street corners, waiting for the owners to leave home. Our mothers were right: don't speak-especially unknowingly-to strangers!

 

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