Home Yahoo! Experiments in Reality Mining with Bluetooth MyBlogLog

Yahoo! Experiments in Reality Mining with Bluetooth MyBlogLog

Yahoo! owned MyBlogLog is stepping into dangerous waters with a new experiment in mobile presence tracking through Bluetooth.

Demonstrated at the eTech conference today, m.mybloglog.com says it allows users to: “Bind your Bluetooth address to your MyBlogLog account and discover others nearby and [sic] find out if you have any shared interests. Meetspace keeps track of time spent with others so you have a running log of people to meet and things to talk about.”

The new Mobile MyBloglog uses a java applet to tie your Bluetooth device to your MyBlogLog account, then polls for new activity every two minutes. In some way it’s not that different from Google’s Dodgeball or other mobile presence trackers. MyBlogLog is very tied into your online behavior, though, most recently relaunching with an emphasis on online lifestreaming. This new feature will let you, and Microhoo, view the recent online activities of the (participating) people you’ve been near lately.

Reality Mining

“Reality mining” is a phrase coined by MIT researcher Sandy Pentland, whose work we wrote about in December. Pentland is working on processing more than 350,000 hours of data collected from peoples’ cell phones. Pentland’s Nokia funded work is studying proximity, location and activity data using information including interactions recorded between Bluetooth devices.

Previous coverage of what Pentland is up to is worth a read on its own. Obviously he’s not the only one working on passive collection of presence and activity data through the interaction of mobile devices.

The Privacy Lab That is MyBlogLog

MyBlogLog is a great laboratory for Yahoo! to experiment with behavioral tracking and personal information among early adopter crowds. There’s a lot of fascinating work being done there. It sometimes borders on creepy, though, and this is one of those times.

If you’ve signed up for a MyBlogLog account, you’ve probably experienced the ambivalent feelings that can arise from on one hand being interested to see the faces of other people who read your blog or the blogs you like, but on the other hand feeling a little uneasy with your own blog reading being very public. The MyBlogLog cookie is very persistent, too. Of course this is opt-in, but how far down the rabbit hole are we going to go before that’s no longer sufficient justification for new levels of tracking?

Data portability and lifestreaming online have huge potential, but once experiments like this start creeping into reality mining territory there are some gigantic privacy questions that come up. I don’t know why MyBlogLog thinks it can get away with introducing this kind of service when it knows it has a shaky public image on privacy.

My first thought upon seeing this was: the internet brain implant creeps closer every day. Maybe I’m over reacting, but how often do you see people who never take their Bluetooth headsets off? This kind of tracking needs to stay as far away from the inside of my head as possible.

I have said several times that Yahoo! is pushing the envelope on data portability with MyBlogLog while the standards community sits too far towards the sidelines having a different discussion. The web, and data portability itself, need a big discussion of the privacy half of the data portability discussion. To keep track of these important discussions here’s an RSS feed you can subscribe to that contains DataPortability.org discussions that contain the word “privacy” and Ask.com blogsearch results for the query: privacy AND “data portability” OR authorization. Enjoy. Here’s a preview of the last few things that have come through this feed.

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