14 May 2010

You’ve been tagged

So you're driving south on the Edens parkway and it occurs to you that there might be an event in downtown Chicago. You know, the kind of event that has a definite start, a hard stop, and fills parking lots. You wonder… “how is the traffic and do I need an alternate route?” You grab your iPhone and pull up Google maps and turn on the ‘show traffic’ function. You’ve just become a sensor. You are reading your own data and so are all the other iPhone Google maps users.

In a recent New York Times article entitled, “The Data-driven Life”, Gary Wolf chronicles examples of individuals using a closed loop feedback system (often their phone) and some basic hypothosis and A/B test strategies to uncover cause and effect in their daily lives. From the benefit of herbal remedies to the impact of sleep habits to asking, “why do I run faster on the weekend?” What this fine article does not do is address the aggregate data gathering that is ongoing using those same tools. It is a data gathering process that you only sort of opt into. The upside is that it could present a fantastic data set for uncovering social behavior that helps us better understand ourselves. The only real question is who owns the data, and who benefits from its analysis.

So next time you head out the door and pop you cell phone in your pocket… think about what you will be doing for the next few hours. And, imagine that little tag that surrounds the ankle of the pigeon pestering you for food scraps in the park. You have one too.