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September 22, 2009

Telltale contrails. Discuss

snowtrailsBOSTON, USA – When a plane crosses high up in the clear sky, it sometimes leaves behind a trail of conensed vapor, called a contrail. Some days, you can look up and see contrails crisscrossing the sky, revealing patterns for those who know how to look for them.

For a long time now, our mobile devices have been watching us and, in some ways, leaving a contrail of our paths behind us. This contrail could be broadcast by the various radios the devices carry, or by some app communicating continuously (or even intermittently) to some box out in the Cloud.

A recent article (see below) got us wondering how far we want to take this permission we give devices to leave these trails.

Big Brother in your pocket
When Nokia released Nokia Lifeblog back in 2004, we used to say that the phone was watching everything we did, so why not make a piece of software that allowed us to easily lay out those activities in a visually appealing multimedia diary? While the focus was on a PC app, we all were busting our brains to think of this online. Indeed, the blogging component was a manual version of that.

But what would the world be like if we could just stream our life to the Cloud?

There’s no end to what the sensor-in-a-pocket model could bring, as exemplified by Jamais Cascio’s list [via experientia].

Sensors for everyone
And we’ve been seeing an expectation that a ubiquity of sensors will somehow make life simpler. Except, a comment by Adam Greenfield (who has written oodles on this) made us think twice. The issue is that, even in the aggregate, patterns can emerge that can help folks reveal specific patterns and relationships once thought of as anonymous.

And a recent article in the Boston Globe on guessing who is gay on Facebook, serves as proof-point for Adam’s comment.

Yes, we might not even see or understand the contrails we put out. In the let-it-hang-out world of the Web, we are indeed leaving patterns of contrails that those who know what they are looking for can read, understand, and then make apparent for whatever purpose they might have.

What do you think of this?

Image from kevindooley