Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Big Mother Bell is Watching 

There's been lots of talk the last couple of days about cell phones that let people locate users within a couple of meters based on GPS and cell phone signal triangulation. It's mostly been marketed to parents that want to be able to keep track of where their kids are (or at least where their kids cell phones are). Bell Canada has just announced such a service, called SeekAndFind.

Sure, this technology has many potential problems, including possible gross violations of individuals' privacy.however, the system that Bell Canada has created, SeekAndFind,incorporates a couple of very basic protections that make the system somewhat acceptable from a privacy point of view. First, if you turn your cell phone off, nobody can locate you at all. Of course, then you don't have any telephone communications, so that isn't a perfect solution. Second, the system only lets people on the cell phone users' white list locate that user. That means only preapproved family and friends can find you, not just any business(except for Bell Canada, of course). Third, the system provides the cell phone user with notification every time somebody locates them using the GPS and triangulation system. That meansyou know when you have been located and who located you.

Compare these features to what the RFID systems provide for the end-user: the RFID can't be switched off, anybody can access information, and there is no notification of access when somebody reads your RFID tag.

Of course, all these privacy protections are only as good as the amount of trust you place in Bell Canada to treat your personal information with respect, and the amount of trust you place in their security systems to prevent other people from abusing the location finding system. Parents will have to decide if knowing the location of their child's cell phone is worth the potential for intrusive marketing by telephone companies and their business partners, and the potential for an attack on the system that exposes the personal information and physical locations of subscribers. I wouldn't want to be the network guy in charge of that system ;-)

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