How much information are you happy for your phone to divulge?

mobile-phone-dataThe rising predictive capabilities of your smartphone is something I’ve touched upon a few times recently.  For instance, researchers believe our phones can accurately predict when we’re bored, and indeed suffering from mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder.

Of course, such predictive capabilities are not confined to such earnest matters.  I’ve written previously about the use of location based mobile services for improving retail planning, with apps able to give managers detailed insights in predicted footfall.

Predictive shopping

Now, an Australian based collaboration between robotics researcher Jaime Valls Miro and search giant Yahoo is working on making smartphones more aware of its surroundings.

It takes the picture Yahoo has of you from your search and email history, and then recommends various things to you based upon your location at the time.

“Say, you’re a tennis fan in front of a particular sports store and Yahoo knows (from your internet clicks) that you love tennis,” Miro says.  “As you pass the store you might find a special offer on tennis gear at that very store ‘pushed’ to your mobile device from Yahoo.”

Like the Density app mentioned previously, the service will be capable of tracking footfall and providing similar insights to retailers.  It could also lead to more personalized services.

As with Density, the contextual awareness will be provided by the Bluetooth low energy beacon infrastructure.  Whilst the technology is increasingly common in the US, it is as yet largely unknown in Australia.  The authors believe that is soon set to change however.

“BLE is already used in smart devices like smartphones, smartwatches and fitness devices and there is the potential for its widespread adoption in applications like payment systems, micro location, security and proximity. Many companies, including PayPal, Estimote and StickNFind are working towards developing solutions for applications that use BLE technology,” they say.

Ethical observation

Whilst there are various technical challenges to overcome before such technologies become mainstream, arguably the biggest obstacle to overcome is of an ethical nature.

We have become accustomed to receiving personalized adverts online on account of our previous browsing history, but receiving similar interventions in a real life setting would up the ante considerably.

As with many of the technological developments of recent years, the legal system has struggled to keep pace with the changes affecting our privacy.

Addressing these concerns sooner rather than later will be fundamental for the successful development of the technology.  It’s an industry that is unlikely to wait around for too long.

“There’s a tremendous new-age oil rush on – worth over $100 billion internationally – which is the buying and selling of our private information to sustain what appear to be free services, but which are really sustained by targeted advertising based on our private information,” the researchers say.

“My concern with the development of ‘contextual awareness’ is that this new technology will extend further into the physical world by giving companies and governments the ability to keep us under surveillance at all times and cleverly manipulate our behaviour,” they conclude.

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