Archive for November, 2007|Monthly archive page

Spatial Privacy and Identity Oracles

The launch of Google Maps with My Location yesterday has stirred up discussion of spatial privacy in the NY Times.

Privacy issues have long been discussed in other sectors, but only relatively recently in GeoData arena. Bob Blakley has been studying this for quite a while, and has promoted the concept of an “Identity Oracle”. While it has nothing to do with Oracle Corporation, private industry does play a key role.

The idea is that I should own and control my private information. Presumably this would include my location. I want to decide who does and does not have access to my location (and my children’s location).

Bob explains it this way:

The Identity Oracle is not a technology. It’s a business. Its business plan says “We allow people to enjoy the benefits of their identities while protecting them against the risks of misuse of their identities”. It charges money for its services.

While privacy issues have been discussed in context of Location Based Services (LBS), I haven’t seen any discussion of how Identity Oracle concepts might fit into the mix.

An Identity Oracle would not allow others to know where I am, but only enough information to provide the service I want from them.

oracle of delphi
Tell us, Identity Oracle, is Kirk near a gas station?

For example, maybe I want to allow Google to sell my information to advertisers, but I don’t want them to reveal my location. I want gas stations to only know that I’m near them – but not my precise coordinates.

This is not a simple concept, but one worth exploring. Google will soon likely be under greater scrutiny with respect to spatial privacy, perhaps we in the geospatial community should consider how an Identity Oracle might fit into LBS business plans.


Spatial Privacy at Risk: NAO, GEOINT and AT&T


All Points has pointed out an excellent in-depth writeup by CorpWatch describing the GEOINT conference held here in San Antonio.

Speaking of San Antonio and spatial privacy, take a look at what AT&T (also headquartered here) has been up to.

Bob Blakley points out a highly relevant article describing how AT&T gave the feds full access to massive amounts of internet traffic without any warrants.

Now that AT&T has rolled out remote monitoring, this potentially gives the government access to a lot more imagery. In effect the DHS has outsourced spying not just to corporations, but to private citizens as well.

Couple this with AT&T’s RFID program, and the spatial privacy issues become even more apparent. No doubt webcams tied to RFID readers can be programmed to follow certain RFID tags through space.

How would you like it if, for instance, one day you realized your underwear was reporting on your whereabouts?

— California State Senator Debra Bowen, at a 2003 hearing as quoted by wikipedia.

Even with all the spying tools though, AT&T decided to cut back on telecommuting anyway. Maybe they just don’t want to risk having the feds spy on their telecommuters communications. Better keep’em safe behind the firewall.

This copy of a Wall Street Journal article makes me wonder how much we in the civilian geospatial community are being co-opted:

James Devine, a senior adviser to the director of the Geological Survey, who is chairman of the committee now overseeing satellite-access requests, said traditional users of the spy-satellite data in the scientific community are concerned that their needs will be marginalized in favor of security concerns. Mr. Devine said DHS has promised him that won’t be the case, and also has promised to include a geological official on a new interagency executive oversight committee that will monitor the activities of the National Applications Office.

ESRI Hires new Product Manager

(Replace Uniface with ArcGIS.)

I’m excited to see that ESRI has hired Dirk Gorter as Director of Product Management.

I googled around a bit and see he was involved with Uniface at Compuware. I’ve never heard of it before, but it looks like a cool product. Note he does not have a GIS background. I think this is a good thing. ArcGIS has plenty of spatial capability, what it needs are easier ways to integrate it into the enterprise.