Photo metadata has been in the news after the eccentric antivirus tycoon John McAfee inadvertently leaked his position to the world. Apparently, Vice was with the now infamous murder suspect and forgot to scrub his position information before uploading a photo of him to the internet. This fact quickly got picked up by news outlets, like TNW and NPR. According to McAfee’s own website, the slip up was blamed on a “unseasoned technician at Vice headquarters” who must have forgotten to check the photo for any GPS coordinates recorded in the metadata. Oops!
The fact that photos can contain location-specific metadata should not be news to the world. A few years back a website called I Can Stalk U, no longer active but still online, attempted to help educate the masses about just how much data we can post about our lives in the pictures we choose to make public on the Internet. They targeted Twitter and some of the various photo sharing services that inhabit that ecosystem, but the problem was generally recognized as being larger than just Twitter. The McAfee photo is proof of that.
But what about us normal folks? Do the social networks and internet sites we frequent most scrub our GPS coordinates out of photos we upload? Are we accidentally creating a situation where the Internet can know where we are?
According to F.A.T, Free Art and Technology Lab based out of Germany, they have pranked a Google Street View car by installing a GPS tracking device to it while it was parked outside Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, Germany. They claim that they were able to somehow attach a tracking device or a GPS cell phone to the car and then receive updates every 2 minutes about the location of the vehicle. They even made a map of the whole think, posting it on their website.
According to some reports, there were even people who used the information displayed on the website to track down the car and perform obscene gestures, shout profanity, or display their private parts in the general direction of the vehicle.
This story has received insane amounts of media attention on the internet and has even gotten a mention of a few TV channels as well, including G4TV:
If one looks carefully at the evidence that is presented on the F.A.T website I think that you will can come to the conclusion that they did not actually track a Google Street View Car with GPS, but instead they merely made a fake one and drove it around like it was from Google and filmed funny and obscene episodes to shame the Internet Giant.
My entire case rests entirely on the their most recent post about how to build a fake Google Street View car. In it, they display the following two pictures (the one on the left is a photo of an actual Google Street View car and the one on the right is of their fake car):
Original Google Street View Car
Fake Google Street View Car
Let me point out some of the major differences between these two cars – it will become very important later. The first difference is the size of the magnet on the side of the door. The real car has a small magnet while the fake one has a large magnet that takes up most of the door.
The second, and probably more important difference between the two is the camera and GPS tracking apparatus on the top of the car. I have highlighted some of the differences in the pictures below:
Top of Original Google Street View Car
Top of Fake Google Street View Car
Hopefully my skillfully crafted circles and arrows highlight the points of difference enough that I won’t have to spend too much time showing how these are different.
Now here is some footage of the people at F.A.T pranking what they claim to be a Google Street View car. This one is supposedly of a driver drinking while driving:
This is supposedly of a driver picking someone up who is urinating in public:
As you can see in these videos, the car is obviously the fake one created by F.A.T. If the sign on the side of the car is not enough evidence then perhaps taking a closer look at the GPS tracking and camera apparatus located on the top will reveal that it is in fact the fake tracker created by the F.A.T group.
Add to this the information found in this post, Pantless Germans Flash Google Street View Car, and I am led strongly to believe that the whole claim of GPS tracking one of these cars was completely false. I did not include this video because it does have some profanity that could be objectionable to some people, but in the post they say this:
Hot off the press. See also Gizmodo, BuzzFeed, CrunchGear, Reddit, BasicThinking, BoingBoing. Stay tuned for more Google Street View car tracking at fffff.at.
That last sentence seems to indicate to me that they are representing this as video taken from the GPS tracking of the car, when it is obviously not. The video is clearly of the fake car that F.A.T created.
Thus, I think it can be clearly seen that their claim is false and that the claim itself is the actual prank. The videos are made in an attempt to ‘eff Google’ and make them look bad.
If you are interested in learning some more about this group, there is a little blurb from their about page:
The Free Art and Technology Lab is an organization dedicated to enriching the public domain through the research and development of creative technologies and media. The entire FAT network of artists, engineers, scientists, lawyers, musicians and Bornas are committed to supporting open values and the public domain through the use of emerging open licenses, support for open entrepreneurship and the admonishment of secrecy, copyright monopolies and patents.
So in the final analysis it seems like F.A.T. just wanted to make Google look bad and advanced their false claim of GPS tracking a Street View Car in an attempt to bring attention to their cause. I certainly don’t blame them for their attempt, but it is important that we all see what they actually accomplished.
Recently I read an interesting article in the local paper about Google’s entrance into the world of cell phones. If you have not already seen the plethora of commercials out there about all the cool stuff the Motorolla Droid cell phone can do then you need to get your head out of the sand and watch some TV. Heck, I don’t even have a TV and I have seen tons of commercials advertising this mobile phone aimed to take away some of the iPhone’s market share in the world of high-end smartphones. If you think about, cell phones like the iPhone and Droid are the future of not only mobile communications but also the internet and GPS tracking. The future goes through the smartphone.
Because of what is at stake here, the advertising has become downright cutthroat when it comes to pointing out the flaws of other phones and a competitor’s cell phone network. If there was any doubt about this, then you have to look no farther than the following advert:
The message comes across loud and clear: iPhone = iDon’t ; Droid = iCan. Everything about this commercial screams out against iPhone and tries to offer the Droid as an alternative smartphone. They even get the same sort of feel that an iPhone commercial tries to give with their choice of music, all of which is used to enforce the message of the mobile phone commercial that iPhones suck. Again, you can clearly see this for yourself by looking at this commercial that has the ubiquitous “iPhone commercial song” in it.
The cell phone wars are upon us, but do we ever stop and let ourselves ask the question, “Why?” Why is Google, Apple, Verizon, AT&T, TMobile, and Sprint spending millions upon millions of dollars in an effort to come out with the most widely used smartphone and cell phone network?
The answer is money, plain and simple. According to David Yoffie*, a professor at the Harvard Business School, “The new paradigm is mobile computing and mobility. That has the potential to change the economics of the Internet business and to redistribute profits yet again” (as quoted in the San Diego Union Tribune, January 5th, 2010, section C3). People like Google and Apple want to corner the smartphone market because if they can do it they have the potential to ‘control’ the way people use their cell phones and the Internet. This control is has the potential to make huge profits for whoever is on the cutting edge.
* This is pulled from David Yoffie’s bio page at the Harvard website: Professor David B. Yoffie is the Max and Doris Starr Professor of International Business Administration and Senior Associate Dean, Chair, Executive Education at Harvard Business School. Professor Yoffie’s research and consulting have focused on competitive strategy, technology, and international competition.
Google made their money on the cutting edge of Internet search. Their search advertising business, Adsense, makes billions of dollars each and every year. Now they want to be able to ‘control’ mobile phone search and to be the premier ad service for these devices as well. From this standpoint, you can see why there is so much fighting going on over cell phones and smartphones.
But what about GPS tracking, where does it fit in?
The answer really has two parts. The first is that mobile technology and mobile Internet surfing is enhanced with positioning technology. People like to be able to find restaurants that are near their exact location, get instant turn by turn directions from their cell phone, and to be able to surf the web or stream Pandora while riding the bus to work. They love the Internet, they love GPS, they love cell phones and they love it when you can combine all three into a seamless user experience.
The second is that ads can be better served when a person’s location is know by the person serving the ads. To a certain extent, companies like Google already are able to do this by taking information from a person’s IP address. Their rough geographic location is then taken into consideration when serving them the ad. For example, a person living in San Diego might get ads relevant to San Diego divorce lawyers when they are on a website that serves Google Adsense and is about divorce law. To a certain extent, this enhances a users web viewing experience, improves the click-through rate for the ad unit, and helps Google make some money.
We have already seen how the Palm-Pre is trying to make use of GPS tracking to serve better ads and how this has caused quite a stir in the cell phone and Internet community. Hopefully other phone companies are learning from the thrashing that the this phone has been getting and will let users know about how their location information is going to be used and give them clear and easy ways to opt out of this ‘service.’
Either way you look at it, GPS tracking is going to be a huge part of cell phones in the future. The only question is who is going to be in the drivers seat of the smartphone era?
The folks over at Google are turning car tracking into a public service, using the data in an impressive effort to provide traffic information for free to users of their popular Google Maps for Mobile cell phone application. This is a great leap forward in providing useful and reliable information to users all over the globe, but especially in the United States. Being able to get traffic information for free on your GPS enabled cell phone is just another reason to begin ditching those cumbersome and increasingly obsolete GPS navigation devices.
Many traditional GPS navigation devices end up charging you for a traffic service – $50 for a year of MSN direct on one device or $90 for a lifetime subscription on one device (Some devices give you traffic updates for free, like the Garmin Nuvi 265WT). If you turn this into a monthly charge, most people are going to end up spending an additional $4 a month to get traffic. This is no comparison when it comes to the free, real time traffic updates provided by Google.
Another advantage to the Google data is that it is crowdsourced. Crowdsourcing is when a task is given to a large crowd of individuals to perform. Generally speaking, crowdsourcing is a great way to gather information. Google is able to do this because they have thousands of customers who currently run their free cell phone tracking application Google Maps for Mobile. All a current user has to do to make their information available for Google to use is turn on the GPS location sharing feature on their phone. This will add your phone’s speed and location to the massive amounts of data already being sent to Google by users all over the roadways. The more information they have, the more reliable their traffic data is going to become. GPS tracking for cars is now becoming useful for everyone.
Now why is Google doing this? Is it just out of the kindness of their own heart that they are making this car tracking information available to anyone who wants to use it, free of charge?
Well, there are a couple different things that this Internet giant could by trying to accomplish by using cell phones to track cars and get accurate traffic information. The first is the most obvious: they want to improve their current product and services. Google Maps is a wildly popular web application and is becoming just as popular on mobile phones. If they can increase this application’s usefulness they can solidify their user base and create lots of Google Maps evangelists. This could cut into the market share of other online map providers like MapQuest and MSN.
Since cell phone make great car tracking devices it is pretty obvious why they chose to leverage their existing cell phone user base instead of creating a brand new Google GPS navigation unit. That just wouldn’t make any sense for the long term since car navigation units are on the decline (or at least so say I).
This strategy also has a long term objective as well, creating Google brand loyalty. That way, when they produce something new – like the Android cell phone – they already have a customer base that will become interested in their new product offering. In fact, the Android cell phone is probably going to receive a marked boost from Google having a strong presence in the world of mobile applications. While it is my understanding that this GPS enabled cell phone is not doing that great in terms of market share, I’m sure that Google is in this one for the long haul.
So it would appear that in addition to wanting to help out there users they are also are interested in making some money. This is obviously going to the be goals of a corporation so users should not be too concerned about this fact.
There are, however, a few things that you will want to look out for if you are going to be letting Google take a peak at your GPS coordinates and your speed information. The first is you will want to make sure that Google is going to watch out for your privacy. If you want to find our more information about how they plan on keeping your private data safe I recommend that you read their official announcement made here: The bright side of sitting in traffic: Crowdsourcing road congestion data
For those that don’t feel like jumping to another page I will sum up their privacy measure. They are as follows:
Google makes all phones anonymous, so no one using the data will know for certain that your phone is the one providing the traffic information
They also will delete your starting point and your destination point from their database, essentially crippling someone wishing to use the info to know exactly where you came from and where you are going – even Google
Another layer of privacy protection is expected in the sheer volume of traffic data they plan on collecting, if you are one of a hundred motorists handing over your personal information to Google then it stands to reason you will be harder to find
This is all important information given the fact that some companies (*cough*Palm*cough*) like hijack your personal information, including your phones unique identifier, and send it back to Palm HQ with their unwanted cell phone tracking software. Companies need to take privacy concerns seriously if they want user to entrust their data to them.
The second key consideration is how sending all this data is going to affect your data plan. This is probably the more important of the two considerations since this is mainly going to be about money for a lot of people. I have not extensively tested this, so take it with a grain of salt, but I am assuming that if you are already using Google Maps for Mobile extensively and you are fine with your current data plan then you won’t have anything to worry about. But if you push your data plan to its max with your current use then adding the load of sending your GPS coordinates to Google will probably push you over the edge.
For some people, this can mean hundreds of dollars depending on what your cell phone provider’s policy is with account overages. This will turn your free real time traffic updates into fairly expensive traffic update. But this is the problem with free GPS cell phone tracking. If you can’t cover the expense of sending your data over the network then it isn’t going to be free.
In the final analysis I think that most people are going to benefit a lot from this type of data. According to one recent report released by Navteq, a major supplier of GPS maps, people spend 18% less time when they have access to real time traffic updates. If you extrapolate that data over the course of an entire year that will turn into 4 whole days of time saved. Now that is car GPS tracking that I can live with.
But is Google going to succeed with this car tracking system they have created or will it fail? Are cell phones really the tracking device for cars that everyone thinks they are or will the data provided by the modern marvels fail to live up to expectations? Only time will tell for certain, but I for one am extremely optimistic.