Friday, 2 September 2011

Geofence - New Settings Available for Hiding


Flickr has newly introduced a feature to automatically limit geographical details of photographs based on criteria. The so called geofence is introduced on the Flickr blog and is a defined area within which the location of photographs is not shown. Furthermore, different groups can be assigned to be included and the lover level to be excluded.

Basically users can set up a parameter around their favorite public park and choose only their friends tag as the group family to be able to see the exact location of the picture taken. Since the groups are arranged, similar to Facebook groups, hierarchically, the other groups anyone, contact and friends will not be able to see the location.

flickr_geofence01

The new setting is very good implemented and easy to use. You either search for a location by name or directly on the map. The marker can be draged around to mark the spot and the adjusted in size between 50 to 10000 metter. Interestingly flickr doesn't say whether this is diameter or radius so the feature is basically a visual one. You have to decide according to what feels about right. But it is the radius that is the parameter.

However, it is less the exact distance that is important, rather it is the number of other possibilities. If there is only one house within the fenced area you could still guess that someone must be living there. And on the other hand if a fifty meter radius in a dense street can cover already

flickr_geofence02

Flickr sais to have more than 300 million geotagged photos and videos on its site. the service has also been blamed to be very slow with updating and adjusting its privacy settings in the past, not offering many sharing options. With this new addition it definitely updates these settings in a rather radical and probably industry changing way. Through out the comunity this change has been received very positive, ars technica, wired, mashable

As Wired describes the problem: "It means you can snap a picture of your awesome 42" plasma TV or your kid's fun run day, without worrying about burglars and perverts from examining the photo's geographical metadata and making a beeline for your hometown."

It is very likely that other services will follow and offer similar options. So that in the future users can draw these geofences around their tweets and Facebook messages, hide Foursquare checkins and so on. It is hard to see the point of geo referencing in this scenario, but it seems that this is the tool the user groups currently want to be able to ave in their hands.

flickr_geofence03

To some extend this is understandable because the overwhelming dominance and power the service provider has over the user making it a very difficult relationship to build up some trust. The services like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, can just change their policies and rules or conditions of use at any point without consulting the user base. Furthermore they have such a monopoli of use and information that it does look scary to the individual user.

However, maybe the problem has to be fond and addressed elsewhere than the user end. This feature is mainly enabling the user to limit himself. What the service does really is providing a tool to limit the users options, but it is self inflicted rather than superimposed. With this the provider is distancing it self from the problem. But the user end is suffering the consequences of being excluded from the location sharing benefits. This is, because the service is built on the principle, the more you share the better the service is.

Nevertheless, it is already good to see the option being implemented. Together with he option to assign groups to the exclusion zone some flexibility is there too. In the long term it would however be better to see a shift in the way location information is handed and processed, eliminating the problems associated with knowing where one is. Currently the trend of sharing positions of everything everywhere at anytime is big and is going to be even bigger in the very near future. With it growing and extending to any sort of information the management on the user end wil become impossible and geofencing the Flickr photographs wi be the least of the problems.

flickr_geofence04

It is not about a single location and it is not about an exact location either. It is definitely not about the plasma TV or a photograph of a child. The problem lies in the amount of data and the repetition of information. If there is one picture taken outside a school little can be concluded from it. However if there is a string of photographs over a year between a block and a block down the road where a school is located and the timestamps mach roughly the school-run hours, one can assume that there is a link between the locations.

It is the pattern resulting from activity that is of interest not the actual location.

2 comments:

JonR said...

Flickr would also be wise to encourage people to put the centre of the fence somewhere near to, but not actually on top of, the location they want to protect.

Taking your example: if I have a geographical mask that is centred on a school and another that is centred on a particular street or house then I don't even need the timings as long as the person has taken enough photos to create a noticeable hole in the map.

So anyone really concerned about their privacy should randomly shift the centre of each fence by an arbitrary amount, and they should deliberately fence a few places to which they have little connection (but near which they pass often enough to take pictures) in order to hide the more sensitive locations.

fan said...

Yes, good point. If there are loads if photographs with just one large whole in the middle it would be simple to guess where the hidden location is.
Regarding the pattern I was referring for example to the Barabasi work based on cel phone data and the predictability of an individuals location to be at any time about 93%. This is purely based on the pattern of movement whether specific hotspots are covered or not. See article http://urbantick.blogspot.com/2010/02/urge-for-diversity-and.html