Tracking me, tracking you

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I’m vas bedar and I host this globen mail podcast lately and I’m Katrina onstead the executive producer of lately Katrina I wanted to tell you that I’ve been tracking my husband oh for the last week should I be alarmed or you just very dedicated to this episode I’m very dedicated I guess I just wanted to know what it would feel like so what have you been learning in your week of tracking your husband um absolutely nothing he drives at a safe Pace um a little more detail on his bike routes but uh beyond that nothing to write home about you know absolutely nothing I have no idea why people do this right well this is it I mean it doesn’t sound like very compelling content and yet people really love these kinds of apps yeah I mean there are other fun things to track that I’ve definitely peaked at like um whale map or shark tracker if you’ve ever tracked a package being delivered to you it’s not as detailed but it’s just as exciting right oh it Shi from the warehouse like oh it’s out on a truck that can be kind of fun it’s true it’s a little game it’s a game yeah it’s a kind of voyerism and more people are constantly sharing their location with their family and friends one estimate claims that in Canadian dollars this is a global market valued at about $25 billion and that just begs the question which is if if you love someone should you track them and your daughter was recently backpacking in Southeast Asia did you air tag her I do love her but no we didn’t track her and to me that is a reflection of that Love Actually I know this is not the most popular opinion but you know she’s in a gap here and she’s experimenting with her autonomy and I know that the most formative periods of my life happened privately and off the grid and we didn’t want to deny her that opportunity but I do recognize that this might be looked at as terrible negligence uh and I’m an outlier on this especially because she herself stalks all of her friends constantly right and I like to peer over her shoulder at Snapchat and she shows me where everyone that she knows is that on the map but these are questions that we are asking ourselves about our friends our loved ones and parents I think especially have to wrestle with this once they have kids so what about you I mean are you going to track your little toddler when he can walk unassisted un assistant yeah right now I generally have a very strong sense of his location at all times I don’t think I track him but I see I sort of see the appeal or some of the comfort that it could bring sure but if I were I would probably use a tool like Life 360 this app it’s kind of a case study in the rise of location sharing as a technology and just as a way of being the firm calls itself a family connection and safety company which sounds very sweet it used to be all about families but now it’s definitely broader than that it’s all about friends loved ones your kind of circle and it’s a really big company it also owns something called geobit which is a tracking device for kids elderly loved ones pets a lot of people track their pets and tile which if you remember those tile trackers they preceded air tags and these are just products that let you track your stuff and a few weeks ago Life 360 they raised over $155 million on their initial IPO right so Life 360 started in7 and in a very short time we’ve seen location sharing become really normalized especially among uh younger users gen Z in particular and the turning point is often identified as the moment when Apple combined find my iPhone and find my friends into find my in 2019 and that’s kind of the moment when location tracking turned into a form of social networking are we too casual about this there are lots of stories out there about people abusing tracking technology and the consequen is going to be terrifying right stalking abuse there was a recent report in 404 media detailing how a suspected human Smuggler was using air tags to track and control the woman that he brought into the US like this is chilling stuff absolutely chilling at the same time this technology can be used to find missing people and not just lost phones but what’s the trade-off to doing this I mean your data as usual and in 2020 location data sales made up nearly 20% so a pretty big chunk of Life 360’s Revenue but they stopped selling location data in 2022 after reporting from the markup revealed that they were one of the largest sources of Raw location data for the industry which makes me wonder if we’re already passively sharing this information with companies almost all the time why not share it with our loved ones right so this is kind of the question of today’s episode is sharing always caring today we’re speaking to Dr ktina Michael the professor at the school for the future of innovation in society and the school of computing and augmented intelligence at Arizona State University she researches mainly emerging Technologies and their corresponding social implications Katina has published six books including uberveillance social implications in our conversation she talks about this concept which she credits to her husband fellow researcher mg Michael one of my favorite factoids about her is that she was previously employed as a senior network engineer at Nell the infamous Canadian Tech and Telecom company so she has this incredible Arc where she was on The Cutting Edge of building location based services in the earliest days of the technology and now she builds her scholarship around location sharing MH we reached Dr ktina Michael at a conference in Cyprus this is lately [Music] do you track anyone that you love in my heart with somebody’s consent yeah I have tracked people with technology but I think in my heart the constant memory of someone is a bit like tracking H trusting technology over a person is something that people talk about in Reddit relationship threads sometimes I love to kind of get deep in the creep if you love someone should you share your location if your person doesn’t share theirs does it mean they don’t love you these are some of the conversations we’ve come upon what’s being measured here is this just about so-called trust or is this something else we might see that location services enhance trust or they erode trust so if you trust me let me follow you everywhere you go so we have to remember that trust is dynamic it’s not static so giving your consent over to somebody else and allowing them to track your whereabouts is a very special thing we have cognitive trust emotional trust and behavioral trust you know I trust my mom because for good reason she’s my mom and she always wants the best for me and I can share my location with her I can have emotional trust with a partner and usually that’s an intensified relationship where I love you so much of course I wish for you to know where I am at all times and then there’s a behavioral trust that changes over time there’s a creation there’s a development and the maintenance side of tracking one another and often the creation and development side is very exciting but the maintenance can sometimes be a little bit of a rocky road and where some people fall apart in that inter relationship many of us were introduced to location based sharing through apples find my friends back in 2011 there’s also the gam ification of building Maps through for square or Snapchat’s map or an app called Life 360 and other programs that have paved the way for this new Norm of beaming our location to our loved ones why are we attracted to these tools everything has become frictionless we all interpret a location in different ways and we’re not very accurate when we use language and so the frictional capability of being able to know that someone is where that x marks the spot without having to have a conversation around it is alluring to most people I just want to know where you are so we can have our dinner and not have to waste any time and of course people’s time is becoming increasingly precious uh we’re living in an attention economy MH and we just want to get on with it so if I can track you and find out where you are exactly in the precise location rather than approximate location then it’s really attractive for me as the finder or for us to find one another in a timely fashion so we tend to resist surveillance when it’s from companies or from government so why are we doing it to ourselves why are we inviting this persistent surveillance I think apart from it being embedded in applications there’s a longing for people to share things about themselves and I do also believe that there’s a proximity that that happens through location dependence it’s actually getting quite close to someone you know we know their name but knowing their location gives us more context to their current event status whatever that is now if it’s a family we already know a lot about our families but we probably don’t know everything and I think location sharing gives us that additional capability to be that allseeing eye where we know more about our loved ones in our immediate circle in fact we may know too much and what we believe starts off in a behavioral trust which is knowing where someone is is a a beautiful thing that enhances bonds between people can actually over time depending on one’s Dynamic State actually end up giving us mood swings a feeling of depression a feeling of anxiety that someone knows where we are all the time and there is no private space whether it’s to make errors on our own or to explore things that perhaps our amilies or our friends may not condone so that Independence may be usurped by codependence and the tables can turn over time so if you love me let me know everything about you I want to go back in time a little bit you worked at the Canadian company Nortel developing location-based services in the very early days of the technology what was it originally intended to do and what were your early hopes or the dreams for this technology so around about 1998 uh third year of my employment with Nel networks we started studying intelligence services and we were dreaming up future mobile services you know we didn’t call things the smartphone at the time we were really limited on bandwidth but we were thinking about intelligence services that were personal so Pas personal assistant services and we were trying to figure out why would people use these Services how would they use them would we require bir directional location sharing and then you started to see the entrance of Wi-Fi you know we take Wi-Fi for granted these wireless access nodes in buildings but they didn’t exist in the late ’90s no not on mass and they certainly weren’t public at the time so we’ve gone from GPS an outdoor positioning system via the satellites right through to an indoor system like Wi-Fi wireless fidelity right down to the granular level which is either perhaps your nearest PowerPoint or some kind of Bluetooth node which is interacting and so for a moment think about it as a hierarchical positioning system You Can’t Hide and you know we’ve had famous Sci-Fi movies like Enemy of the State that have shown that capability of being seamlessly tracked no matter where you are Outdoors or indoors there’s this handshake between the different network types and you’ve got nowhere to hide nowhere to hide how do you personally feel about how these technologies have evolved I love these Technologies when I have control of them and I trust how the data is being utilized for my benefit and my circle’s benefit so it’s not black or white and we must remember that we do have control over what kind of visibility we give to the system whether that system is allow it all the time to locate me allow it only when I’m using the app and I’m in the app ask me every time I do anything with the app or no right now I just want to shut it down and don’t allow it to track me but it’s great when I can turn it on and have control over it but what increasingly is concerning me is that we are seeing trends of how our location data is being used alongside our identity information and when we have studies pointing to the fact that we only require four X and Y coordinates to identify who you are without knowing your name without you providing a token or a biometric and just with four location points we know who you are not just where you are it becomes quite incredible because we’re creatures of habit when we study human activity monitoring we see that week after week we sort of do the same things and those locations may be at home at work at an entertainment venue or event or dropping off or picking up a child or a thing or food or something other and just think about your own Lifestyles for a moment and reflect on that and the benefits and the risks and the costs that come with it there’s always positives and negatives to all technological developments let me pick up on life 360 in particular it claims to have 66 million members it was originally pitched to families but it’s clear that they’ve expanded to go after this Market of friendships for instance our sound design who’s in his mid-20s he knows where his partner is at all times can you talk about that Evolution how the popularity of location sharing has widened from family to friends Life 360 is a great example it was launched when we were doing quite a few studies on location services needing to share with families those who were closest members and we trusted to share our location for convenience and for care for that matter but of course even in those situations we have seen parents abuse control of the apps and if we want to talk about helicopter parenting for a moment sure it’s the constant surveillance of their children oh yeah to the point of we know the train came by why didn’t you get on the train and even adult children being asked these questions by the parents in studies we’ve conducted when we’ve seen Partnerships and just this constant wanting to know where someone is so that there’s support and love and you know how did it go at the interview and are you tired and we may have hundreds of touch points per day in that context which just strengthens the bond but then we’ve had other situations where in not so good relationships and perhaps those that are prev to domestic violence sometimes even when navigation map algorithms have changed such as Google’s map in 2014 their algorithm was changed again back to Reddit and other public blogs we reviewed hundreds of women’s posts saying your app now doesn’t work and my husband or my partner thinks I’ve been cheating on them and there have been repercussions wow and in the most heinous contexts GPS’s have been strapped to vehicles or phones have been accidentally forgotten in the boot of a car of somebody you don’t know mhm the data regathered and then a heinous crime taking place thereafter many of which are now case law are extreme cases where harm has happened to the one who has been tracked so we often talk about the trustor and the trustee but in in stranger contexts there isn’t any trustor or trustee right the one who’s being tracked doesn’t trust because they’re unaware of the tracking and in the old days it wasn’t bir directional sharing so if I downloaded on your phone surreptitiously Google latitude and you didn’t pick up that the app was running in the background I could look up where you were without your realization after pressure being applied by academics like myself companies started to notify somebody when a lookup had occurred or every 3 weeks you would be pinged do you still consent to your location being tracked and sometimes there were wild surprises particularly between parents and children some of the teenagers were 16 to 18 years of age and took up the matter with their parents you know if this is really how you want to treat me you’ll never trust me and I thought you trusted me and there can’t be any Quick Fix after trust has been broken you know it takes a long time there’s no app for that there’s no app for that there’s been all sorts of really important reporting about these apps or these tracking Technologies being used as you mentioned in alleged stalking incidents incidents of violence do we know if location sharing actually does make us safer overall the more we share the more we make ourselves vulnerable it’s the Paradox of security the more secure allegedly our systems become the more insecure we feel and that’s an amazing finding in our research because throwing technology at a problem doesn’t make it better it makes it worse depending on the context so we talk about this in terms of insecurity distrust and vulnerability and so that thing that we said would enhance our capabilities is eroding it and sometimes it happens because it’s not just the location data that is gathered it’s our physical activity data that’s gathered it could also be our Vital Signs and characteristic so what direction I’m traveling in but also my heart rate and if I’m running or I’m on a train or I’m in a car or I’ve suddenly break in the vehicle but then who am I sharing that information with is so important to companies because the older days is you know tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are right I guess the flip side of that is companies will tell us that we in turn benefit from sharing this information because we can receive what a more personalized price or a better targeted ad there’s a ton of money in the location sharing industry could you give us a bit of an overview of how those Economics work so nothing in life is free profit maximization is the number one thing followed by sales maximization I know in the early days when I was looking at simply Amazon’s Partnerships in the first few years of their development they had 150 Affiliates that they would share information with wow so there’s obviously the businessto business selling of your data of which you’re not gaining a scent but you’re giving over and for some people they’ll say that’s okay you know I’ve got nothing to hide and in fact I want all the services that I’m engaged in to be optimal I want them to optimize their knowledge of my location so that it’s faster for example when I open an app it knows that on Sundays I frequent certain venues so it’ll open looking for that venue so you can drive to that venue with your navigation on and people like that Chronicle and history and breadcrumb because it’s again convenient and if you trust the service there’s nothing wrong with it but we’re becoming a little bit blase as consumers oh the app has asked for access to our contact list and our pictures and our audio okay okay okay okay cuz I really just want the [Music] app in 2022 according to the Pew Research Center 69% of gen Z and 77% of Millennials said that they activated location sharing features on their phones at least sometimes do you see a generation gap in the update with these apps and Technologies why do you think location sharing is so popular among younger people it’s a great question I think in the early days location sharing was a default feature right so you didn’t have to opt in so I think many children using applications quite innocently have just continued to use applications without realizing the repercussions and in fact I think there’s a generational Gap but only one that’s based on lived experience as we get older perhaps we’ve been exposed to Greater number of situations and contexts we realize how location is one of those features and capabilities that is a discriminator and this is the case with under represented minorities and also women in particular so as we get older we realize that knowing someone’s physical location means that someone literally could knock on your door at home or actually stalk you in groups there have been many middle-aged men for example who have somehow crept into social networks of cheerleaders or a sports team and masqueraded as a child or a young teen but everyone is oblivious because they’re a friend of a friend but they’ve never met these friends in person so all of a sudden ping Tom can travel around with the group and the group is obivious to the watching from from afar or up close digital literacy is becoming increasingly important we need schools from a young age you know even preschool to start educating I’m glad you mentioned preschool we have a girlfriend who we tease because I think she stalks her son right there’s a live webcam that offers a stream all day of the main play area at her daycare but she has trouble closing this tab she has trouble focusing on work and we’re like leave him alone let the little guy play but I mean how does that build that expectation between parent and child that you’ll be able to kind of know where they are side note if my mom could have a live stream of stuff I was doing all the time she’d probably tune in too I don’t blame her but it’s tough right it’s tough and we’re not even waiting for preschool we now have these Nanny cams in hospitals after the birth of a child so in the first week of a child’s life there is a cam stuck right on top streaming and I understand you know grandparents may want to see the newborn but they don’t have to see it all the time and in fact as a mother of three one of the most sacred things that I felt after giving birth to my kids is I was filled with joy and love for the human and not the technology in fact we didn’t touch technology for the first week we just wanted to smell the baby yeah cuz the baby filled our life now the watching being normalized is dangerous both for the self and the other from the self perspective uh we can talk about obsessive compulsive disorder we can talk about taking risks and children Thrive when they’re risk-taking they don’t Thrive when they’re controlled and what we are doing is circumventing our child’s Independence we’re stealing their identity in some way their development of who they are if we’re constantly watching and then perhaps thinking we’re correcting or otherwise so I I think it’s dangerous but I I do understand that increasingly dayc carees all over the world are doing this you know it used to be when my kids were growing up we’d maybe have a a picture set at best scrolling on the monitor so we could see you know they were baking today or they were doing mud bricks outside today this live cam business and what we’ve seen is parents getting jealous over another child’s capability in one activity like that’s ridiculous between the ages of you know zero and five when we start to compare and unfortunately location sharing and the visual aspect with this notion of uber veillance that my husband developed as a term and is in the Oxford dictionary it’s about identity location and condition and the fourth item is the image the visual what is Uber veillance it’s a kind of Big Brother on the inside looking out you know through CCTV or Nan cam or some cam device but it’s knowing all of these things about someone and then inferring what they’re thinking and the p Falls of uber veence really are misinformation misrepresentation information manipulation and really sending us down the wrong path what we need is as George Orwell noted that which is inside our skull to remain private so that we have that Independence and autonomy and what we don’t want is to get into a world where there so much surveillance that we can infer by what you’re doing and where you are and who you’re with what you’re thinking M and once we lose that which is inside the skull as the only private space we really have left today what we’re going to see is a fraying of ourselves and of the social fabric that ties societal members together and that to me is dangerous how close are we to that danger I know you’ve spoken about the Allure of God view can you also explain that idea yes so this God view it’s the seeing eye whether we have it through a CCTV or through our workplace surveillance capabilities like a pinhole camera that watches you when you turn on your laptop literally some organizations are doing that and you’ve signed over consent and there’s a policy denoting why usually about security of something but we are treading on dangerous territory when we want to know everything about everything all the time because it means we’re not giving people room to breathe where they can’t constantly on the grid they’re not allowed to disconnect and what we’re seeing now is tourist destinations marketing their location as being off the grid that you kind of it’s a dead zone and people are flying to these places to enjoy some time out increasingly it’s sort of like a game I noticed that fine my friends has this weird feature you can award one of your friends the dot of the week well it’s all behavioral engineering Vass and it’s Pokémon go on steroids when we reward people for sharing more and the rewards are minuscule you know it’s not like you’re given money but there’s some kind of Trophy and we see that with sports and Athletics and cycling you know I’ve got a smartwatch on right now and I use an app and I know where I go on which routes and if I share that with the same demographic then I can compare and compete even if I’m not in the same city so there’s this gamification occurring but it’s nudge right that’s what we call nudge factors well if I can get you to do certain things post a reward you just probably give away a bit more mhm you touched on how this is creeping into employment situations and kind of freaking workers out affecting how they’re making decisions what they’re doing do you think the use of either these apps or again just this technology this new expectation of default location sharing in our private lives is priming an entire Workforce for this kind of electronic monitoring totally and I would say that this was occurring early on although the workforce was not aware one of the earliest cases I studied around about 20067 was a case in the US where someone was claiming hours they were a teacher they were claiming hours that the teachers organization proved they never had engaged because their handset that had been given by the state was trackable and they never were in the area they were claiming money for so there you go that was one of the earliest case studies you know it can become quite suffocating in a work context when we have drivers who have four GPS is on average on a truck and all they want to do is stop to have a quick 10-minute nap but their employer knows they’ve stopped the truck right and that truck is you know holding Goods that can spoil if they don’t reach their destination in time I’ve known truck drivers who haven’t stopped even when they’ve felt their you know Dental issues will explode while they’re driving and they’ve had to just carry on with the pain and get to the other side because they don’t want to be asked why did you stop and this will cost you money so the other thing that I realized at the time is that we equate objects to the same level as subjects on our find my apps you know we’re finding our left ebud our right ebud like could be our left arm and right yeah our phone our Smartwatch it’s all connected but on those circles are also human beings and I tell you vas I think that people having difficulty distinguishing between the asset and that human and we’re starting to treat the humans as if they’re things so I look up the person but I don’t actually realize I’m looking up a human being whose blood is pumping and has a brain I just think they’re an object cuz I can map them to a coordinate or it’s like mapping a car or an earbud but these are not equatable but the app what it does it sort of puts us on the same level playing Ground it flattens our structure our hierarchy of needs our hierarchy of importance and I’m worried about that Trend as well so given all your research and your reflection and your rooting as a professional kind of on The Cutting Edge of these Technologies do you feel that the presumed benefits of location sharing are worth these costs privacy Financial intellectual I think location sharing has a revolutionized business processes they’ve transformed organizations and the amazing things that we can do through location sharing when it’s for the right purpose is phenomenal with scheduling like companies like DHL measure 5,000 hops sometimes of location points to make sure that we get our Goods delivered on time and in good condition I never negate those positive benefits but I’m in increasingly concerned about the erosion of our privacy and our ability to be independent thinkers to retain our human rights and our dignity but we’ve almost abandoned our rights willingly at times for the service and that is very hard to regain you know when I use my GPS to get somewhere but I frequent that route every single day and I’m doing it constantly but I’m not really paying attention I’m just listening like a drug to the direction yeah and I should know where my workplace is shouldn’t I but a lot of people don’t you know they’ve worked there for a year and it’s 45 minutes away and they don’t know how they got there they just asked the GPS every day but we’re losing touch with the natural and physical locations you know I pass that very interesting Temple or that Bakery on the corner or that person that’s always out there every Sunday or every Monday with his group of friends playing basketball we’ve lost touch with the relationship of our arounds because we’re just on autopilot and I’m worried that we’re losing that part of the conversation which actually builds trust When We Trust Systems to tell us where the other party is you know that chitchat that we used to have on the phone how do I get there where’s this place you know which band’s going to be playing at the pub we’re losing the chitchat yeah so it’s just like well you’re just an object on a map and if I don’t want to share with you I won’t but where are the rules of engagement of two people or more in a group feeling a sense of belonging that’s not just about I will create this network and then tear it down it’s accountability you mentioned anxiety going back to the 9s at Nell did you have feelings of anxiety related to the technology did you feel that there were the right rules in place to sort of anticipate where we’ve gotten to right now I believe the tech sector and the Telecommunications sector are responsible for the context of we find ourselves uh we just dreamed uh we wanted intelligent Services we hoped that I won’t call it AI but some intelligence service would support things like how do I get from Australia to China and knowing that the trains were on time that my plane was on time that everything was interconnected and that these Services they would be interlinked and we would have this seamless capability to get from a to zed I will say we were more preoccupied with things to do with profits and margins and I can tell you now discussions really weren’t about the customer or you know we did identify personas but really the only talking point for customers was the average revenue per user it was not about the well-being of the user it was not a human- centered design approach to building networks the customer was a nebulous vague identifier it was just a variable in a spreadsheet and and I think that needs to be flipped on its side H users were just another dot on something it was a unit it wasn’t even human it was a DOT on on on a spreadsheet a count and I I do think we need to be more Mindful and actually start thinking about Humanity centered design you know in a perfect scenario how should we be storing data and should it be sensitive and we just store data for 24 hours if it’s all we need is the last 12 hours or the last one week why is a service perpetuating this sensitive data use and really we we need to redesign or rethink How We Do design so that we have more of these positive benefits because I do believe in location services I just don’t think we’re building them the right way it’s the building they will come mentality that has always been there since the days of AT&T but we need to move beyond that I think we have now gotten to a point where we realize that is no longer enough that is not the right approach to create Innovative services and I think we need to create real services for real people not fake services for fake people that somehow are attracted by you know Trends and patterns and fads but increasingly we’re just trying to make more money and sure that’s the aim of most companies so there’s employment and economic prosperity and Innovation and patent generation but really if we want to talk sustainability in terms of humans and the planet we’ve got to think about purpose before we think about profit profit is important but purpose is more important from dots on a spreadsheet to dots on a map and our friends apps ktina Michael thank you so much for helping us locate ourselves in this evolving debate over sharing ourselves thank you thank you so much B [Music] you’ve been listening to lately a glob and mail podcast our executive producer is Katrina onstad the show is produced by Andrea varsen and our sound designer is Cameron mver I’m your host best Bednar and in our show notes you can subscribe to the lately newsletter where we unpack a little more of the latest in business and technology a new episode of lately comes out every Friday wherever you get your podcasts

Location-sharing apps are growing in popularity, not just among families and Gen Z friend groups but with investors, too. (The tracking app Life360 made its Nasdaq debut earlier this month.) 

If we’re already passively sharing this information with companies almost all the time, why not share it with our loved ones?

Our guest, Dr Katina Michael ( , who was on the cutting edge of building location-based services in its earliest days, says that the trust and connection we desire when signing up for these apps is exactly what’s being lost by using them.

Michael is a professor at the school for the Future of Innovation in Society ( and the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence ( at Arizona State University. She researches emerging technologies and their corresponding social implications, and she’s published six books.

Also, Vass and Katrina discuss how boring it is to track Vass’ husband.

This is Lately. Every week, we take a deep dive into the big, defining trends in business and tech that are reshaping our every day.

Our executive producer is Katrina Onstad. The show is produced by Andrea Varsany. Our sound designer is Cameron McIver.

Subscribe to the Lately newsletter ( , where we unpack more of the latest in business and technology.

Find the transcript of today’s episode here. (

We’d love to hear from you. Send your comments, questions or ideas to [email protected].

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