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Posts Tagged ‘Mobile Computing’

Cool, but Creepy

December 8, 2009 Leave a comment

A footnote to my last post on the FTC roundtables: check out Kara Swisher’s interview today with Google’s Vic Gundotra and Amit Singhal.  Based on their description of Google’s new visual search product named Google Goggles – coming soon to an Android headset near you – we may already be seeing a product that will test the FTC’s ability to balance consumer privacy concerns against technical innovation.

I can think of numerous ways visual search can revolutionize business, travel and the daily errand.  For instance, right now, I’d love to find out the provenance of this supposedly antique table that we picked up at the Alameda Antiques Faire last weekend.  For visual search to work effectively,  i.e. for it to catalogue enough results to get me a relevant, real-time match, the product must incorporate persistent GPS and location tracking technology.  And yet, these are the types of features that give some of us a creepy pause in this era of unregulated online privacy.  Do I really want my phone to know that much about me?

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Trying Another Form at the FTC’s first Privacy Roundtable

December 7, 2009 Leave a comment

At the first of the FTC’s Exploring Privacy roundtables held earlier today, Chairman Leibowitz was asked whether the FTC approach to regulating privacy has been successful.  Artfully dodging the question, Leibowitz responded by likening the privacy issue to Winston Churchill’s view of democracy:

“it has been said that democracy is the worse form of government — except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

The Chairman’s remark encapsulated the spirit of the day, as a reinvigorated FTC dived deep into consensus building with a who’s who from the world of privacy policy. This is just the start of the inquiry, with another two roundtables to follow. The plethora of smart thinking and ideas that flowed in stream-of-consciousness fashion from today’s panelists were helpful to the evolution of a regulatory construct for online privacy.  Yet, many questions remain unanswered.  And even with all the bright minds in attendance, the contours of an effective regulatory scheme for online privacy remain unclear.

More research on web attitudes, custom and habits is needed. As we learned today, the personal data ecosystem is extremely complex and layered (like those privacy notices you can never find the bottom of).  Did you know that there are over 20 different categories of companies – including web marketers, search engines and online data brokers – that currently collect information in personally identifiable or aggregated form? Incidentally, the FTC did a great job of pulling together supporting material for the roundtable, including this slide on the personal data ecosystem that should be a must-view for anyone surfing or shopping on the web.

Clearly there is tension between the approach advocated by those representing the consumer interest (CDT, CDD, EPIC, etc.), and those involved in what Commissioner Harbour described as a “digital arms race” – the race to monetize content and information and build massive ad-viewing bases in the digital economy. Consumer organizations are urging the FTC to adopt stricter privacy regulations – at a time when online advertising is exploding on both the desktop and mobile web.  Now, the FTC must engage in a careful balancing act – develop a regulatory framework that protects consumer data online while not impeding the growth of technological innovations that utilize profile data.

The discussion will continue at a second FTC roundtable on January 28th.   Here are some of the discussions I hope to hear in round two:

  • The volume of personal data that travels on the web today pales in comparison to the volume of data we will see in a future of web-enabled devices and integrated systems. Does a use-based classification system with individual opt-outs for each type of information really work with large volumes of information?  Or should all personally identifiable information be regulated in the same way, irrespective of use?
  • Several panelists indicated that self-regulation is not working.  What’s the alternative? Is the failure of self-regulation attributable to the lack of clear government guidelines or engagement on what online privacy policies should look like?
  • In 2008, for the first time, more people accessed the web through their mobile phones than through a desktop. As the FTC attempts to get ahead of the online privacy issue, what considerations should be given to privacy protections on the mobile vs. desktop web?

Announcing, the App Phone

November 5, 2009 2 comments

The App Phone is about to create waves in the world of mobile computing … again.  The original App Phone – the iPhone – is purportedly the most successful gadget ever ever.  Now, Verizon will shake things up  with Droid, which runs on Google’s Android operating system and which, like the iPhone before it, is likely to have a significant impact on the mobile web.

App Phones illustrate the complexity of mobile web competition. It’s the killer phone, not the killer app – but it’s also the app that drives demand for the phone.  And to further this complexity, the competitive impact of App Phones and certain smart phones now reaches into other device markets thanks to powerful mobile web applications that mimic functionality seen on other devices.  And the most successful applications eventually get assimilated within the device itself, leading to a next generation of innovation in this dynamic market.

This is well illustrated by GPS – a must-have feature in today’s advanced smartphones, especially App Phones.  Until a couple years ago, GPS-navigation devices were sold separately from phones or smart phones.  But today, GPS mobile applications can give certain phones the same GPS functionality as an advanced (and pricey) standalone GPS device.

Droid will be the first phone to include Google’s GPS Service for mobile phones – with innovative features like voice-activation, turn-by-turn directions and live traffic updates.   The feature list should be enough to make GPS device makers cringe; the fact that Google is now offering the service on a free (eventually ad-subsidized?) basis makes the competitive picture even more interesting.  In fact, news of the Google GPS announcement recently sent shares of GPS device makers Garmin and Tom-Tom into a precipitous plunge.  It’s unclear what the future of pricey standalone devices will be – particularly if consumers can get that same functionality for free on their App Phone.

Innovations like GPS navigation are just one of the forces that are shaping mobile and App Phone competition.  There are other forces that are important to the future viability of this market – such as wireless broadband availability and deployment.  And then there’s the regulatory concerns with privacy on GPS enabled mobile phones as seen in the FTC’s report on mobile commerce issued earlier this year, as well as the much publicized interest by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in regulating a wireless market which he sees as being “all about mobile.”

Regardless of how mobile computing and App Phones evolve, it’s likely that these advances will continue to benefit a great many people.  The fact that voice-enabled GPS will be available for “free” will likely stoke consumer interest and demand for such features in future devices.  And advanced devices like the App Phones will continue to lead the explosive growth in mobile internet (which continues to outpace desktop internet adoption).   In many emerging economies, the phone is already a cornerstone of growth thanks to its portability and the power of today’s mobile applications.  In Kenya, for instance, mobile computing is replacing a national banking system, and allows villagers to send and receive money without a bank account.  Within this framework, the possibilities for App Phones are endless.

For now, I’d be contented with voice-activated GPS on my phone that actually works.  That’s why I look forward to purchasing my first Droid tomorrow.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am currently a Verizon Wireless customer who looks forward to purchasing her first Droid.  I do not have a business or client relationship with Verizon or any other company mentioned in this post.