Friday the 13th? – Privacy, Patents and True Value, Oh My!!

Where in the world are you?  For voice-based services, it matters!

Where in the world are you? For voice-based services, it matters!

Contextual content is very powerful, but location privacy problems can get in the way.  The problem that many seem to be falling into is presenting a good value proposition to the users.  If your phone is being polled for information to display an advert on a trash can, where is the value?  If your phone is being tracked around a department store, where is the value?  You are giving up precious location information and depending on where it is being used it could really disadvantage you.  Give me some value and I will give you the world.

Warning: Doomsday scenario.  Let’s look at how this could all go down horribly bad for the consumer.  Store tracks my movements around their aisles.  Stated purpose is to ensure that you get to where you need quickly.  While the store is doing that it notices that I spend an inordinate amount of time in the ice cream aisle.  You say it’s just the phone, but what about when the store tracks me to the checkout and correlates my phone with my payment information.  Oh by the way, I pay with a card from a bank that also provides me life insurance.  The bank/life company pays the store for some of that information and the next time I apply for life insurance I get a question about how much ice cream I eat and what kinds.  Scary?  You bet.  Expected?  Not at all.

Innovation provides some answers

Patent filings sometimes gives us a window as to where companies are thinking.  In some cases it is just a dart thrown at a board seeing where it hits.  Other times it is a laser focused steel projectile going right for the bullseye of genius.  Today is one of those genius moments thanks to Apple.  Forgive me for loving me some Apple this week, but I really do enjoy it when I see things that enable good informed information exchange.

Leaving aside this pervasive opt-in by default, the other problem with polling location data of users is the value exchange.  That is where the rubbish bin folks got it wrong.  So how do you go about providing good value to the user and communicating it to them.  One solution is the iBeacon technology that was announced as part of iOS 7 and the new iPhones.  I talked about that on Wednesday.

Another possibility is this recent patent filing by Apple.  First, my pet peeve.  Some outlets are reporting this as a patent.  It is not.  If the number of a patent starts with a year, it is merely a filing and is not a patent yet.  So stand down all you patent haters and just bask in the new knowledge.

Value for information

This patent filing attempts to solve the problem of voice recognition.  Voice recognition algorithms generally are based on global routines.  Over the years the providers have amassed billions and billions of utterances from millions of people.  Through this they build out systems that can handle disparate accents.  The problem is when those accents become more than that.  When they become dialects.

So, Apple’s engineers, specifically Hong M. Chen, thought that using location information would be a great way to truly customize the voice recognition experience.  Simple description of what they are doing is overlaying locally specific routines over global routines.  Say for instance, you are in Wisconsin and you are parched:

  • You – “Siri, where is the nearest bubbler?”
  • Siri – He is looking for the location of a bubbler
  • Siri – I am in Wisconsin and in Wisconsin a bubbler is a water fountain
  • Siri – The nearest water fountain is a 1/2 mile down Main Street
  • Siri – “The nearest bubbler is 1/2 mile to the east on Main Street”

If you were walking along Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco and you ask this question you might get a totally different answer.  Though you might be asking a totally different question.

This is great value, in my mind.  If communicated properly I would definitely be okay with my location being constantly mined by my phone.  Think about all the things whose information changes based on location.  Turn by turn directions spoken in English where the street names are displayed in French.  That one is easy, ok.  But let your mind go on this one.  That is the beauty of patent disclosures.  They are meant to spur innovation.  In this particular case they can.  They can inspire us to new heights.  This may seem such a simple idea now.

Back to the three-legged stool

Value is the most overlooked leg on my stool.  You need to provide good value when you ask for information.  That is the only way the information exchange works effectively.  If you don’t have good value exchange the user will eventually balk at your request.  They may even protest it, or may consider it a total violation of their privacy.  If they get good value, and know they got good value they will give you the keys to the kingdom.

Communicating this value is best contained within the notice, I think, but I leave that up to you to best communicate it.

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