Permission espionage and peer-to-peer spying

When I came to England in 1980, I spent some time in Blundellsands, near Liverpool, before coming down to London and starting work some months later. In those early weeks, I started exploring the area gingerly, first going to watch Marine FC play nearby, before finally heading to Stanley Park to watch my first-ever First Division match. Even the Calcuttan in me had heard of Keegan and Dalglish, of Bob Paisley, of Bill Shankly.

Which meant I chose the Red side of Stanley Park, and I’ve been a Liverpool supporter ever since. Some great years, some good years, for the last twenty years mainly not-so-good years. I was brought up to support teams regardless of whether they won or lost, so it hasn’t mattered. If, like me, you were an Indian cricket supporter in the 1960s and 1970s, you’d know something about supporting teams that lose.

It was January 1981 when I had my first experience of being in the Kop when it was time to sing You’ll Never Walk Alone. You have to be there to know what it feels like. Nearly twenty-five years later, I was at the Ataturk stadium in May 2005, there with my son to watch Liverpool in the Champions League final. 3-0 down at half-time. You had to have been there to to know what it felt like, hearing the stadium in full voice a few minutes later. Incredible. The rest is legend.

You’ll Never Walk Alone. There is immense comfort to be drawn in being together with people who you share something with. That comfort means even more when you’re up against it, when times are hard, when you’re at your most vulnerable. You draw strength just from the knowledge of someone else caring about you.

These were my thoughts when I came across Companion last week. As the tagline says, Never Walk Home Alone. A mobile app that lets you share your route and destination with friends, so that they can monitor progress. An app that even lets you express your doubts and fears as you travel, useful for journeys where you feel exposed because of the time or the context. An app that even lets you contact the police if needed.

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We have ways of tracking devices, of the Find My iPhone variety. We have ways of tracking luggage, of the Trakdot variety. Companion is just one of a long line of services that allows people and/or things to be tracked or kept in contact. An unusual example is the Good Night Lamp, launched by a friend of mine, something that will appeal to parents with young children.

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I enjoy my privacy: I detest the idea that others can decide on my behalf to trade my privacy for their perception of security, something that many governments are wont to do.

As Benjamin Franklin is reputed to have said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

What I like about the Companion or Find My Device or TrakDot style of offer is that the choice is left to the individual, not just the choice of being tracked, but by whom.

Permission espionage. Peer to peer spying. With an accent on the permission.

Track me, but only when I ask to be tracked. If something I do will mean I am going to be tracked, tell me in advance of my being tracked. If you intend to share my track with anyone, then do so only when you have my explicit permission.

It’s not just marketing that needs to be about permission. Being spied upon should require the same permission.




Let me know what you think

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