Mobile phone GPS a security risk? Only to those who follow you

Steven Hodson, in a post over on Mashable, describes security risks and the waste of information that mobile phone GPS use brings (when pinpointing and announcing our locations). He poses some extremely valid points in regards to announcing one’s geolocation via Twitter, Brightkite, or FriendFeed being useless noise.

Telling people via a highly conversational medium such as instant messaging or an SMS text that you are currently at 13th St and Ash Lane is nothing more than noise. It’s a waste of precious conversation. To a few of your closer friends it may be relevant, such as a buddy that would meet you for coffee. But for the masses, it is unimportant and you’re guilty for wasting their time.

I’m guilty of this lately. I’ve been trying various mobile phone GPS services. It’s been fun and interesting, but I’m in agreement with Steven about this announcement being a waste (at least if it’s without background information). Steven doesn’t mention it, but my thought on optimal geolocation announcement is in a widget placed on one’s blog. It’s there for interested followers, but not intrusive or annoying.

But that’s where we agree. He describes broadcasting one’s geolocation as a security risk and I strongly disagree. Yes, there are some situations where it is. US soldiers in Iraq will not benefit from this feature. Folks in witness protection programs, runaways, victims of domestic violence, those being stalked, cheating spouses, and those in organized crime probably won’t either.

The typical citizen without conflict is not at risk. It’s easy to figure out when someone is normally at work, so knowing an optimal time to break in to someone’s home is already simple. It’s easy to find a person in a public place, so it’s already easy to find the optimal time to commit physical harm.

Note: If one is being stalked or believes him or herself to be in a situation where announcing location is dangerous, it’s simple to turn the feature off.

As I’ve said before, people are inherently good. They don’t go around looking for someone to damage or rob. There are some people who commit these crimes. These people use crow-bars instead of Facebook, and are stopped by alarm systems and deadbolts rather than a lack of geolocation data.

Mobile Phone GPS – Where are we going?

BlackBerry 8800 GPS

Most smartphones slated for release over the next 12-months include a GPS receiver, built in. After that, it will be a marked failure to not include a GPS in a phone. The functionality that comes with GPS is outstanding – mapping, directions, location based experiences, etc. We’re about to enter an age of advancement in technological capabilities that we’re just beginning to imagine.

Consumers are moving to smartphones. The hottest smartphones (iPhone 3G, BlackBerry Bold 9000, most of Nokia’s Symbian and HTC’s Windows Mobile offerings) all include GPS and an exposed API for developing applications utilizing their hardware. Anything people can conceive of for location based mashups will be coming (more on these mashups in later posts)…


Here’s a first application…

BlackBerry is a leader in mobile phone GPS. Recently a few services that announce the location of one’s phone emerged. Initially these were billed as a sort of low-jack for one’s phone, a security service for the insecure (or those who want to spy on their kids, etc).

I decided to try a few of these. Most felt slimy, like, “you always know where your phone is, and you could also know where your wife is!” … I don’t know about you, but my phone is loyal and doesn’t run off with strangers… And I trust my wife far more than a phone.

My goal with trying these services was to mash Twitter, Pownce, Facebook, and other social networking services with my location. Such a mashup will allow me to share my real-time location with all friends. I came across Much like the others, the idea is to provide you with the location of your phone. However, they have something the other’s don’t… Facebook and Google Earth integration (as well as a drop-dead-simple semi-RESTful API).

Friends can pinpoint me down to the meter on my Facebook profile, updated every 30 seconds. To be honest, it feels strange to openly publish this data. Security, and lack thereof, has us believing we shouldn’t share such information. But this fear is caused by the exception and not the rule. And in reality, my location in public isn’t private. Additionally, there are laws and common courtesies we live by, and I trust that people are inherently good.

Soon these services will be in the mainstream. Everyone will be able to pinpoint the location of anyone. Let me emphasize that… Soon everyone will be able to pinpoint the location of anyone. Not publishing your location will be like not having a mobile phone.

Micro-blogging a 10-mile run – Broad Street Philadelphia, 2008 – Utterz

I ran Philadelphia’s Broad Street run, a 10-mile race today, while carrying an iPhone, making calls, checking Twitter, and taking and posting pics. I chronicled the day with Twitter, Utterz, Flickr, and TwitPic. I used Snapture, iFlickr, and SendPics iPhone apps.

Quick Links to the streams:

My plan was to Twitter my progress and TwitPic/Flickr the pics out to my followers. But I woke up at 3am from a caffeine rush and a thought of typing for an hour becoming a nightmare – and boring., a service doing pretty slick mashups of audio/video/text/photographs/etc, while harnessing APIs from pretty much every popular social networking service, caught my eye (more on Utterz later).

Here’s the day – check the Flickr photostream and the Utterz links below for my audio commentary while I running…



  1. Lined up and ready to go
  2. Started!
  3. Mile 1
  4. Mile 2
  5. Mile 3
  6. Live music between mile 3 and 4
  7. Mile 4
  8. Mile 5
  9. Passing Ed Rendell, governor of PA
  10. Mile 7
  11. Mile 9
  12. Finished!


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Integrate an announcement service (Twitter/Pownce/Jaiku) in your next release

Pitchfork Tines Bronze

As developers, if you’re building services your customers can share, you need to plan on announcement integration.

I keep thinking back to February when I wanted a better way to integrate Twitter. Others wonder about Twitter being a source of lost content, as Cartoon Barry describes well. If a visitor is on my site I want to ensure they can consume everything they’re looking for without bouncing. If they prefer to consume the content elsewhere that’s fine… but they shouldn’t miss it here.

Dave Weiner was looking for a way to integrate a daily links entry back to his (he was posting to Twitter and skipping the daily post). Dave started using the prefix “!” so he could have a service read his Twitter feed and build a daily post. This is a good start, but my thought is that this isn’t the way to go. My ‘starred items’ idea is also not the right approach. Both are moving from Twitter to the blog. Twitter is the announcement service and if we can automate its announcing of what we’re doing, we don’t have to do anything special.

Twitter, Pownce, Jaiku, etc are announcement services. Their power is in providing an API other services can hook. The best solution is to intelligently connect Twitter to what you use and to encourage the services you use to integrate with Twitter. Or if you’re building sites and services, do it so your customers get this benefit.

The web-world I see in the next year offers announcement service integration. When I find a site I like, not only does StumbleUpon or Google Reader suck it up and share it for me, but an announcement is fired through my service(s) of choice. When I make changes to Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn profiles, an optional announcement is fired outside their gardens.

This approach doesn’t neglect the social networking aspect of these announcement services. A response should be pulled back as a comment, if available/applicable. All of the announcement services have response API calls. The social aspect of these services is retained and the content becomes more valuable as it is connected with its target.

Think efficiency and value for your customers – Bring announcement to an automated state.