Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tech tips: Location tracking

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This is a map of my whereabouts for the past 30 days, rendered from my Nexus history.  Lots of north/south business travel in England, a couple of east/west runs to Maastricht and Schiphol. ‘Days spent’ in different locations isn’t well represented; movements are sampled more frequently than stationary periods.

Despite the obvious (and accelerating) pace of my life, it’s also evident that it’s scope has been pretty restricted this spring.

When I first moved overseas on the Corporate expat program, I remember being called into security to discuss emergency procedures.  If there’s trouble, we can find you, they advised in a windowless room. “From my Outlook calendar?”  I was such a naif (naief).  No, as soon as you activate your phone, we’ll track it.  I imagined a room with a map displaying my big red dot, expecting a call if I didn’t move as predicted some days.

Now, in the wake of the Snowden reports, that seems almost quaint.  All of  my calls and texts, border crossings and cash transfers, have likely been gobbled up and stored, analyzed and discarded.  I still attract a moment’s attention from British and US Border agents, questions about the duration and reasons for my absences.  But surveillance is the norm, not the exception.

Why not put it to good use?

Location tagging is built into most devices not, and I leave it on by default.  It helps for my camera to tag my pictures, people appreciate location tags on text messages and Facebook posts, and I’ve been able to use Android Device Manager to locate wayward phones and tablets on a couple of occasions.

Location tracking is built from the history of  location tags: after enabling it, tracks can be viewed in Google Dashboard or with a tool like View Location History, used to make the picture above.

Location sharing goes the further step of pushing my location to others.  I’m experimenting with two apps, Glympse (which sends a series of locations to someone for a specified interval) and Hemisphere, which allows people to query my current location.

So, what would I like to do with all of these capabilities?

Self-monitoring:  Similar to a sleep of fitness app, it would be useful to monitor my ‘travel intensity’ as a way of keeping track of stress and facilitating better lifestyle management.  Eliminating the back and forth, knowing when movements are ramping up unknowingly, monitoring whether I drive too fast or route inefficiently between stops would be interesting.

Business connections: I’d like business associates to have select capability to query my location, progress, and availability.  I manually set my location in Skype and message people about my travel progress, but it would be neat if they could directly query my time zone for a call or my progress towards a meeting.

Safety:  I carry a card with “Who to call” contacts in case of emergency.  There are also a couple of designated people who receive regular texts with my location who would follow-up if they didn’t hear from me.  But I would really like something that tracked me for anomalous movement, that could ping my phone for a response if I wasn’t sending calls or messages, and that would notify designated people of my location if there were a likely emergency.

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