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    New York Times: Tomorrow’s Privacy Struggles, On Display Today

    The New York Times reports on new technologies that could affect individuals’ privacy and civil liberties:

    The thorny privacy issues of tomorrow were on display Thursday morning, when AT&T showed off a batch of technologies under development at AT&T Labs, the company’s research arm.

    Researchers showed off door handles that unlock when you tap your phone against them, or even when the device is still in your pocket, sending vibrations through your body and into your fingertips. There was a steering wheel that communicates with a GPS device and vibrates to tell you which way to turn, and an app that works with sensors in your personal possessions to tell you when you have left something behind.

    A number of the tools focused on taking advantage of data about a user’s location, pointing toward tensions that will very likely increase as products are developed that use mobile devices as sensors and transmitters. These issues are not necessarily about what AT&T or other companies will do with their users’ personal data — although it is clear that there will be no shortage of concerns about that, either — but potential conflicts created by tools intended for people to keep track of one another. […]

    Another project that AT&T is testing is Donde, a location-based messaging system that could one day end up as part of its network’s basic SMS service. The program allows someone to send a text that will be delivered when the recipient arrives at a specific location. Someone could send her husband a message to pick up milk, for instance, and it will be delivered at the moment he leaves the office.

    But what happens if the recipient never went to work? Gerald Karam, the researcher who is developing Donde, gives the example of a husband who heads to a balloon store instead of to work because he is planning a surprise party for his wife. (But, please, feel free to imagine your own scenario.) Donde would allow him to break into the messages he would have received at work, giving the impression that he is where he said he would be.

    So Donde sets the stage for deception, but it also serves as a surveillance tool. One option would send a text message automatically whenever a user arrived or departed from a specific location, so that, for instance, a father would be notified each time his son arrived home from school. The system would also allow a user to permit himself to be tracked by another AT&T phone, either temporarily or indefinitely.

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