When importing pictures to Picasa from my iPod touch today, I was surprised to find that many had little Google Maps pushpins, suggesting they were geolocated. You can make them out on the top and bottom pictures in the screenshot, above. Now there's no GPS in an iPod touch nor does it take in a cellular signal, so the amazing accuracy -- at a recent convention, the pushpin moved around the map revealing almost exactly where each picture I took was taken inside of the building -- might come as a shock.

Now I've heard of Skyhook before (here's an article from CNET back in 2005). Apparently, much like Google's cars have run around taking pictures of everyone's back yard, Skyhook drove around taking down MAC addresses and other info from everyone's WiFi routers.

That's neat, I guess. It's certainly a creative, ingenious idea. On the level of problem solving, I'm very impressed.

Why is this a problem? Well, there are two ways, I believe. First, parents might not want emailed pictures of their kids to include, say, the precise location of their kids' favorite ice cream shop, or friend's house, or park, or school. It's not like any of this is a huge issue to figure out, but right now stalking a stranger in a picture takes some work. Geolocation lowers the sleuthing bar to installing Picasa (or any other geoaware pic app) and clicking a tab. I like my [functional] anonymity.

Secondly, and this one is more theoretical, I believe, though it's the cause for the first -- I don't want to be responsible for helping not just Skyhook, but also stalkers or even necessarily every authority from finding people who happened to take a picture of themselves doing something near my home router. If a parent takes a kid on a bike near my house, I'd rather be asked if the camera's makers can use my router info to geolocate before the stamp hits the picture. My home might be relatively stationary (though there are funny stories about routers moving from, say, the US to the UK and producing some interesting geolocation stamps), but there's really not too much difference between using it and, say, people's proximity to my cell phone. I'm not sure I want this information out there in the ether without my consent, and I sure as heck haven't been asked.

So while I'm impressed with the problem solved, with regards to privacy, I'm less so. You could say that it's an implementation issue. Why geolocating images from my iPod is the default is Apple's fault, not Skyhook's. But again, there are two dancers here. As if the eye in the sky aerial imagery of the earth isn't bad enough, metadata telling folks exactly where they are using my data isn't cool either. Without Skyhook mining my router -- and yours, and your local university's, and Starbucks', and the local library's, etc -- this isn't an issue.

Who said that was okay, and who should have been inserting themselves in 2005 to say, "You need to ask us first"?

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