Are you aware?

I have been looking for a while for interesting location-based mobile services. I have always had the feeling that location is a big hype, and that it is not that easy to build interesting and non-intrusive services (yes, I believe that location-based advertising is intrusive). Mapping is obvious, of course, and finding friends can also be interesting (more for teenagers than for me, but I don’t think that I am their primary target).

The service offered by AwareSpot goes a bit further. They describe the service as:

AwareSpot is a FREE service that allows trusted sources, such as public safety, community services, TV and radio stations, and even friends and family, to send location based text message alerts. It does not require GPS, and works on any mobile phone!

Of course, their main advantage is that they will not send you all messages, but only the ones that are relevant to your location. Why do I think that this is different from finding friends? This service is really about social networks, information sharing, and the information can have some value. They are also interesting in the sense that the inforamtion sharing may be global (public and searchable), and also private, limited to invites parties. Overall, I think that it is an interesting service.

Why is this important? First, because such a location-based service requires an important bandwidth. Either the information is broadcast and filtered on the mobile (quite unlikely), or the mobile regularly updates its location by communicating it to the server. In both cases, communication is frequent, and potentially large. In the end, services like that may lead to unlimited mobile Internet access, and that would in turn open many doors.

Another interesting thing is the fact that we may end up broadcasting our location to numerous sites and services. And this is quite scary. I don’t know what all these sites do with this location data. Do they simply use it to perform a query on a database? Do they keep a few minutes of history? Do they archive it forever (or at least for a few years)? The basic privacy policy of AwareSpot does not mention location information, but they mention that:

We can (and you authorize us to) disclose any information about you to law enforcement or other government officials as we, in our sole discretion, believe necessary or appropriate in connection with an investigation […]

Another reason not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, except that you don’t know when and where that may be. And things are not going to get better. Google is a very large company, and they need to be careful with your data; but what about a cash-strapped start-up that offers a location-based service?

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