Thursday, August 16, 2012

Voluntary Tracking

I am geographically challenged. And that’s being charitable. It’s not just that I have difficulty in pointing out where Idaho is on a US map, but in making my way around town. After nearly a quarter of a century living in Los Angeles I still needed assistance in getting around parts of town. Moving to the Twin Cities in January I became even more dependent on GPS. The few times that the app was down resulted in adventures best left to the “Amazing Race.” I am acutely aware of the irony that my reliance on satellite navigation is made possible because the U.S. Government (Defense Department) first realized an effective use for the technology.

The military usage allows for efficient and accurate delivery of weapons, troops against targets. The system operates in real-time and was made available for commercial use under the Clinton administration. The technology has wide uses in military and civilian life. As a smaller government libertarian it’s unlikely that I would philosophically support investments in developing new technologies that become huge commercial successes. That really is the role of the private sector.

For the convenience of a hand held guide I have surrendered my privacy. The GPS system not only tells me where to go, it keeps track of where I’ve been. It is literally a two way street. Perhaps this is the cost of having government develop a technology and give it over for commercial use.
According to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association there are 285 million mobile units in the US as of June 2010. As of August 14, 2012 the U.S. population clock shows 314,159,265 people (or to math geeks, pi). That means that 90% of Americans carry a tracking device…voluntarily…or more likely, without realizing.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported this week that each Minneapolis city police cruiser is equipped with a camera. Police cameras capture license plates of every car it ‘sees’ along with the date and GPS location. The data captured is available for view by anybody who asks – the benefits of Minnesota’s freedom of information act. So if you’re curious about your spouse or your child, just ask the police to find out where the car has been. Like the person from the gym and wonder where they spend their time? Put in a request to the cops on their license plate. Fear not, the name and address information isn’t released…that’s considered private.

This week the FTC
fined Google a record $22.5 million because the company was tracking where people visited online with one particular browser (Safari ) after saying it wasn’t tracking. One government agency can capture and track where people are in the real-world but in the digital world that same tracking by a private company is fined. It’s no longer ironic, it’s surreal.

American’s used to relish privacy. Generation S (as it’s being dubbed for Social Media) is being conditioned with a different definition and expectation of privacy. Generational divides happen throughout human history. The difference here is that the surrendering of privacy by Generation S means that it affects Generation X, the Baby Boomers – the Greatest Generation – everybody. The Fourth Amendment guards Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures. I guess tracking nearly every American isn’t unreasonable if it’s done voluntarily.

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