Context Aware Computing

As I’ve stated in these pages before, the reason I’m so enamored with the LIS field is the mission: helping people obtain knowledge.

However, with the rise of Big Data the data that makes up knowledge is overwhelming. And that’s where knowledge may not be a good thing. My better half has always been concerned with the blurring of line between public and private spaces technophiles wittingly subject themselves to. Those posters of Aerosmith and the magazine clippings of Batman that graced my bedroom wall as a child? It seems to me that the Facebook wall has usurped the bedroom wall. I for one haven’t shared my love’s concerns. I’m of the school of thought that since you can control what you display on your Facebook wall, or other facets of your web presence, any breaches of privacy are your own doing. While, I don’t think such distinctions come intuitively yet, all that’s needed is a little education about what’s appropriate to post online. With employers using Facebook as a tool to gain a greater insight into their prospective employees, people will learn to be wary of their online image. Well, that or they’ll be left to wonder if the Great Recession is truly the reason they’re having difficulty getting a job.

This morning, however, I was doing research on the top 10 technological trends for 2012 and ran across one that has made me rethink my stance of web privacy. Number 3 was “Context Aware Computing”. It’s the reason why I find adds for Robert Heinlein books, meditation cushions, and an upcoming BB King concert. I’ve heard such names as “Intelligence Gathering” or “Smart Marketing” given to this. But as a great man once said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any name would smell as sweet.” Only, to me, this smell is sickly sweet. But let me back up for a moment and get into what, exactly, Context Aware Computing’s is.

Right now the focus on the user experience is being geared toward location. Find out where they are, either on the web or in the real world, and when they do things. In the future it will be all about focusing on their habits and needs. Going hand-in-hand with this is basing app creation around a set of desired experiences and having the app fit that desire instead of forcing desires to fit the app. This sounds like a very smart business plan. It’s a way to ensure you’re reaching your target audience. If a dude doesn’t like country music, telling him about the new Toby Keith album is a waste of his time and yours. The bottom line is the bottom dollar. Far be it from me to begrudge a business their desire to make a profit. I understand ours is a capitalistic society and making money is part of what drives it. I can also see the boons of such technology. I’m a lot more apt to look at an add if I’m interested in what they’re selling. So, I’m willing to accept that part of it. The sign up method is where they’ve lost me: you’re automatically signed up whether you want to or not.

In the stead of offering this service and allowing people to opt-in, the push is to automatically opt everyone in and allow them the choice to opt-out. That’s akin to someone walking in through your front door without knocking. Sure, you can always ask him to leave but isn’t it already too late? Haven’t you already been affronted by his assumptions? It’s this presumption that a company selling me something has the right to the information they’ve gathered. There’s a world of difference between gathering data from a focus group and gathering is via a list of Google searches.

The days when a person had complete control over his (or her) personal preferences is long gone and it isn’t coming back. Context Aware Computing is here to stay whether we want it to or not, much like the ebook.It’s an immature technology and therefore we’ll bear the bruises of its growing pains, again much like the ebook. So I think instead of futilely resisting, we should make our concerns known. Hence this blog entry. I think advances in smart marketing or whatever name catches on can be mutually beneficial. The advertisers will make their profit but we won’t lose our privacy in the process. If you agree, help me spread the word: we want to opt-in not out. If you don’t agree, let me know why.

For more info, see here Gartner on CAC.

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