In the UK, Big Brother is watching, and shouting at you. Dutch TV is hounding someone caught sunbathing topless on Google Earth – so everyone now knows where she lives.
WayMarkr provides software which automatically snaps your every move on your camera phone and sends it to your blog.
So why are we surprised that every phone these days is a potential spy camera, recording and displaying everything we do? Who’s watching all these videos? Why, everyone of course – it’s easy with Google and YouTube.
Wal-Mart and Tesco watch how you browse around the store. Then their computers quietly make a note of what you did buy, and didn’t. Next week they’ll have a different layout and try again. Maybe you’ll buy something on impulse, just to confuse them, but they will probably screen that out.
But what about when you gazed lovingly at your daughter – was that also recorded, and maybe mis-interpreted?
If you can easily watch your customers and employees – and your competitor’s, you can bet they can also watch you! That’s a new twist on customer intimacy and transparency.
If Google and MySpace, and their millions of online members, are watching and making judgement calls, maybe it’s time to switch off all those phones.
On the other hand, it’s a lot safer if everybody is keeping tabs on everybody else. Not so?
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
“Can I trust you, brother, or is Google watching?”
It’s happening already, and with lots of participation and consent from the public. But when it becomes extremely subtle, pervasive and part of everyday life, perhaps we have to re-evaluate who’s watching who.
According to Peter Hoyt, executive director of In-Store Marketing Institute, which was involved in the infrared trial at Wal-Mart, the data isn’t much more sophisticated than a turnstile counter, in the sense that it doesn’t attempt to identify the shoppers nor capture how long any person stays in that aisle or record anything else. The data is then transmitted, stored and matched against POS (point-of-sale) records of purchases ultimately made, and then the data is analyzed.
There are many other retail tech tactics to get at this kind of information, projects ranging from smart carts that report back their location, the elaborate use of video cameras to constantly track customers, and smart shelves paired with item-level RFID. But the infrared sensor approach isn’t merely less expensive and easier to deploy than those alternatives. It’s also a lot less threatening.
Hoyt argues that the very small amount of data being collected – and the seemingly innocuous nature of it – is deliberate and is aimed at eliminating consumer resistance to this kind of tracking technique. “The general public will perceive [other techniques] as being invasive. This technology is attractive because it’s so benign,” Hoyt says. “If you tell people you’re tracking them with video or with RFID, they freak out.”
Google buys YouTube
In one of the biggest dotcom acquisitions since the 1990s, Google buys YouTube and competes head-on with MySpace for supremacy in the video internet market. By making it easy for members to upload video clips directly from their camera phones, Google soon has millions of walking web-cams feeding its service – and all for free! Watching inane phone videos becomes an international favorite pastime for hundreds of millions of youngsters around the globe. Google’s search algorithms automatically highlight videos which interest you and your friends, and soon it’s like surfing your favorite TV channels – all of them reality shows.
With simple syndication tools also linking in to video, your PC or smartphone can do the filtering and selection for you, and present you with a package of clips, programs and reviews that are bound to keep you informed and entertained for hours. Marketing companies have recognized the value of social networks, and soon big brands are featuring prominently in these real ‘slices of life’. “Over the next few years, advertising around video is expected to explode. It’s only 2% of today’s roughly US$15 billion in annual ads online,” says Bambi Francisco of AlwaysOn.
Spying on the neighbors in Britain
Councils in London, West Yorkshire, Northumberland and Dundee are supplying householders with covert spy cameras so that they can amass evidence against nuisance neighbors. The devices can be hidden in pot plants, between the covers of books on windowsills facing the street, or squeezed between door frames and brickwork. They provide 24-hour surveillance to capture evidence of vandalism, threatening behavior or abuse.
Darren Kennedy, community safety officer at Kirklees council, has installed more than 20 spy cameras in houses and other locations since April 2006. His most ingenious hiding place for a camera is in a rockery. “We built a system which fits into a fake rock. It could contain a camera, a battery and a radio link or it could feature several cameras, a hard disk and a remote access satellite system. You drop the rock and away you go,” says Kennedy.
Watching the market
Just think, you can get GoogTube to keep tabs on your competitor’s sales force, and alert you when they visit your best customer. What about their president’s overseas trips – wouldn’t you love to know when and where they take place? Does that mean you should ban phones in the boardroom, and the canteen?
‘Life caching’ is not really a new idea, and has been the subject of product development by Nokia and Microsoft, among others. But now the technology has made it easy to capture thousands of frames throughout your day, and string them together into a two minute ‘movie log’. Judging by the popularity of websites like eSnips and Glogger, everyone is just dying to share these memories with the world.
“I needed to interview someone for a feature,” says Sasha Rampling, business journalist. “A quick look on Google revealed that he’s on LinkedIn and MySpace, the awards he’s won, and video of his family. And he likes mountain biking. Maybe I should just put in the Google links and skip the interview!”
But what happened to privacy, and do you really want your competitor, ex-whatever or government agency to be able to take a ‘close-up and personal’ look at your life simply by logging on to Google? Perhaps the only way to avoid all these cameras is to invest in one of those invisibility cloaks!