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*Useful* location-based services
device
jducoeur
Okay, I'll admit it: I'm a bit of a Luddite when it comes to the current fad for location-based services. Stuff like Foursquare strikes me as somewhere between intrusive and unsettling. If I lived in the city, I could just barely see using it, but out here in the 'burbs it seems like a mostly useless concept to me.

That said, it's clear that there is power in the idea, nicely illustrated in an article in yesterday's Times, talking about a new service to fight identity theft using location services. The idea is simple and elegant: they monitor your credit card and your cell phone, and send an alert if there's a transaction that doesn't line up, on the theory that somebody might have stolen your card number.

It seems far from necessarily perfect -- for example, online transactions wouldn't work with this, since the "location" of the transaction is often far away. So I'd worry about false alarms. But it's still clever, and I suspect could be used to very good effect as an early warning of a stolen credit card. Indeed, the banks themselves might be smart to offer this service themselves, since they often wind up on the hook for fraudulent transactions.

Others? I know of Bump, which uses exact positioning to set up connections between two cell phones so you can do app-to-app transactions, but not much else. Are there other location-based services (aside, obviously, from Maps) that are more than just toys?

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I can't say for certain that it exists (don't have a smartphone, so haven't been motivated to look) but a "get me to [point X] via public transit" is useful and probably trivially easy - just shove GPS location into a Google Maps lookup.

A more sophisticated version which uses the recently-released realtime MBTA bus/train location data would be phenomenal, though much more difficult.

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The promise of a location-aware to-do list has hung around for years, but in practice it's rarely useful--sure, I'm near that hardware store, but 'near' means 'whipping by it on I-90'.

Now, if we could couple location with an accurate representation of schedule, it might get more useful. "I notice you're in Woburn with a few hours to kill, followed by a return home...how about hitting that Korean grocery store you've been meaning to go to?"


There are a few apps where you start them in mid-journey and they keep some or all people appraised of your location and your ETA. "I'm running late, and this is how late."


As for the credit card thing--maybe? I feel like it's a gimmick; credit card companies already flag things for unusual patterns like this, and in practice false positives are very high. I've had transactions turned down because I did 3 fill-ups in 3 states over 4 hours. On a motorcycle with a 110 mile range, this is not unusual, but I ended up having to pay cash because it looked like skimming. Would having my cell phone along with me help the CC company feel secure that it was a legitimate transaction? Maybe--but maybe not; why wouldn't a mugger take the phone too?

I'm amused that the post immediately adjacent to yours in my LJ feed is this one: http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/10/the_fbi_is_trac.html

"The FBI is Tracking Whom?

They're tracking a college student in Silicon Valley. He's 20, partially Egyptian, and studying marketing at Mission College. He found the tracking device attached to his car. Near as he could tell, what he did to warrant the FBI's attention is be the friend of someone who did something to warrant the FBI's attention..."

I use foursquare, but not for anything in particular most of the time.

In an ideal world, I would use foursquare to see where my friends are out on the town (and vice versa) so we can try to hook up. In reality, I don't have enough friends using the service reliably enough for this to actually work, and even when they do use it, we're generally too fairly geographically scattered for it to be of use. If I'm at home in Waltham, I'm unlikely to drive out to a bar in Shrewsbury or even Framingham on the spur of the moment.

It would have been awesome in college when we were on a spacious but small campus in a small town where anything you might want to go to was a 15-20 minute walk at most.

If I were the sort of person who liked meeting strangers, I might use foursquare to see who else was checked into a venue I was at and find out if any of them seemed attractive or interesting.

The big thing about foursquare for me is I check in voluntarily, or I don't. I never check in from work; I use it mostly to log social places I am in case someone looking for something to do wants to find me (Camelot Common House, SCA practices), and when I'm on the bus/train only if I feel like it or it seemes pertinent (she just checked in from the 71 ten minutes ago so she's probably not getting to dance on time).

The thought of banks simultaneously tracking my credit card and phone GPS in the guise of identity theft prevention is utterly horrifying. Or rather, the possible instances in which such info could be subopenaed for who only knows what (divorce proceedings, etc), not to mention hacked (these people who must be rich based on their spending habits are on vacation somewhere far from home).

It also seems like a recipe for fuckups, like the one or two people who inevitably get screwed at Midnight Madness each year because they've just had a transaction from [a merchant from] Delaware followed by one from [a merchant from] Missouri followed by one from [a merchant from] New York all in a half hour's time, and their card gets frozen by their well-meaning bank.

I don't know if I'll use foursquare as much after I move. There's an amount of security that comes with a four person, four vehicle household. Someone would have to be pretty actively casing us to ever know for sure that absolutely for reals none of us are home. If I live alone and I broadcast that I'm not home, then there's probably no one in my house.

Oh, yes -- the college scenario is similar to what I was thinking of when I mentioned city life. It seems like, the more closely packed you are with your friends, the more useful the service would be. Pointless in the 'burbs, but probably *great* on a college campus.

It's true that you won't be living with others in the same house -- that said, I'd generally consider Camelot a pretty high-security neighborhood for the same reason any small village is: everybody knows each other, so casing a house is inherently *very* risky and dangerous. My suspicion is that it's actually much safer in general than your current setup: it's pretty rare for Camelot to *not* be crawling with people. (And your new place is practically right by the Common House to boot, IIRC...)

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