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November 02, 2006

Term Project Blog 4: The Long Arm of the Cell Phone

“The Long Arm of the Cell Phone” in Business Week discusses a new advancement in social networking that some companies now offer as a cell phone feature. Website services are being linked to cell phones, so users can constantly stay in touch with one another. For example, Dodgeball.com, Geocaching.com, and Plazes.com make it possible for cell phone users with satellite technology to locate restaurants, night clubs, movie theaters, or a map to a specific location. Also, they can find the current location of friends in their network. MySpace is considering joining these other sites and allowing MySpace users to locate one another. This feature raises questions about privacy and safety.

This can be a very useful feature but could also be quite problematic. If someone is traveling or just happens to be in an unfamiliar part of town, it would be nice to have immediate access to a map. Using your phone to find a restaurant or club is more convenient than trying to ask around or dial information. While it provides convenience, there are issues about privacy and safety. Anyone in your network can find your location. Dodgeball takes this a step further and notifies users when they are within ten blocks of a network buddy. This could be alright if you want to have an impromptu visit, but it seems that it would be more of an annoyance. You could be in a hurry or not want to see this specific person, but they are now calling to meet up with you. Having others know where you are going also tells them something about what you may be doing. This gives you limited privacy. The article mentions that there are opt in or opt out policies with this feature. However, some users may be confused or unaware of this. Additionally, there may be individuals in your network that seem harmless and end up constantly checking your location and possibly showing up wherever you are. There are already MySpace users that constantly check other users' profiles and read their wall posts. If MySpace joins in and links their website, it will just add an additional way to "stalk" others. It poses several possibilities for intruding in others' privacy

This device would have limited use in the business world. A business professional on a trip could use the restaurant locater or map feature. However, it could be problematic if customers have the employee's cell phone number. The professional would want to be certain that his customers were not included as network buddies for he would not want a customer to be able to track him down at any time. If used with caution, it could periodically provide useful information for someone in the business world.

Overall, we would be interested to read more information about this feature. The privacy and safety issues are the biggest concern, and we would like to see how the sites deal with these issues. Currently, the additional features do not seem worth the added cost of losing privacy and possibly risking safety.

Posted by traceyja at November 2, 2006 11:35 PM


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