Back in 2002, when Tom Cruise could keep his peculiarities and PR under control, he starred in the sci-fi whodunit blockbuster film Minority Report.
Set in the year 2054, Minority Report offered, among many things, a futuristic portrayal of retail experiences. In the film, Cruise’s character, John Anderton, is hurriedly walking through a shopping mall trying to evade capture.
While doing so, his eyes are being scanned with alarming frequency. With each scan the glass window he is passing by offers up a personally targeted advertisement. (Best advertisement: “John Anderton, you could use a Guinness right about now!”)
In the ten years since the release of the film, many of the computer and consumer experiences envisioned have either come to fruition or on the verge of what’s possible. These experiences are being made possible by combining the capabilities of mobile devices and big data.
Last week I had the opportunity to attend a workshop in San Francisco presented by SAP on the very subject of the future of mobile, big data, and analytics. Aptly named Right Time Experiences (RTE), these contextual experiences take the vast amounts of data available publicly and privately and combine it with real-time information from mobile devices.
For consumers this could translate into something as simple as an enhanced shopping experience or as complex as medical services. For businesses it provides the opportunity to engage with clients and products in ways never before possible.
A key ingredient to this experience is leveraging the native capabilities of mobile devices. Data from audio, video, GPS, pressure, and biometric sensors can be collected, transmitted, and integrated into a variety of apps on our devices.
These mobile inputs maintain a persistent connection to the Internet and provide an almost limitless stream of information. Devices are constantly improving their capabilities. In fact, recent devices have hardware that is sensitive enough to tell you when you are moving between floors inside a building.
The end result is opportunities that are a breath of fresh air for consumers and businesses alike. For example, the French insurance company Groupama allows customers to start an accident claim, complete with photos and GPScoordinates, from the accident site using a mobile device.
Retailer Tesco allows commuters in Seoul, Korea, metro station to use their mobile devices to order and have groceries delivered on their commute home by scanning desired items from a billboard in the station. Experiences such as these provide customers with valuable time savings while granting companies the opportunity to distinguish themselves and build loyalty.
What is defined as a connected device can go beyond our common understanding of what mobile is as well. Vitality has a product called GlowCaps that is used on the top of prescription bottles. Vitality GlowCaps flash to remind the user to take their medicine.
These caps are connected wirelessly through mobile carriers, like AT&T in the United States, to transmit data to doctors and loved ones every time the cap is removed. These caps allow concerned parties to track whether medicine is being taken according to schedule. They can also refill the patient’s prescription automatically.
All of these experiences can bring added conveniences to our lives, from directions to connections. However, coupled with this capability comes concern that we could be exposing too much personal information. There are apps that push the social boundaries of privacy.
For example, the app called Girls Around Me allows user to leverage the social platform FourSquare to see who is in their proximity. Wolfram Alpha aggregates information on your Facebook posts and friends such as age and location. There is even an app named “Creepy”. Creepy is geolocation information aggregator that takes data from sources such as Twitter, Flickr, and Foursquare and overlays what was posted and where on an interactive map.
The challenge and opportunity is that the great the diversity of data collected, then the more of a crystal clear outline of who we are can be derived. Taken together, the sum of the data outlines our habits, routines, and daily norms. This data can also clearly show any variations from our routine. This is very powerful data that can be leveraged for life-enhancing experiences.
It can also be wielded to gain intrusive insight into our patterns and lifestyle. We are also only scratching the surface in terms of what is possible to collect. As mobile devices become more intimate to our physical being, the opportunity for sensors only grows. Why not track vital signs so you know when you or a loved one are beginning to get sick or taking a turn for the worse? But how much of this personal outline is appropriate for collection and consumption?
The data collected is meaningful both on an individual level as well as on a collective basis. Just as deviations from the norm can be used for analysis and functionality on a personal basis, it’s almost more powerful when looking at the masses. For example, think of how an indicator, such as the consumer confidence index, could go from its current monthly backwards-looking data point to real time and even predictive stream based on variations of consumer spending that are being constantly gathered. Think of the field day that savvy political campaigns could have with the data collection and analysis capabilities.
The collection of so much personal data raises many questions. Who owns this data? The organizations providing the service, or the individual? Is it possible for an individual to opt out of having their data collected? Do consumers have access to data? Can individuals request data to be deleted? Who has control of the sale and sharing of your data? The disparate nature of the data across many apps and services makes answering many of these questions a challenge on a global basis.
Many years ago, I remember being freaked out the first time I ever got directions from the Internet. I entered my address in Seattle on the West Coast of the United States as the starting point and my parents’ house on the other side of the country as the destination. Up came turn-by-turn directions to their house some 3,000 miles away. I remember looking at the map and thinking that somehow I was actively spying on them. “Stalkers are going to have a field day with this,” I remember telling a friend.
Fast forward to today. We don’t think twice about being provided step-by-step directions from our current location. In fact, giving someone directions could not be classified as lost art. What once seemed invasive and like spying, has become the norm; or as my good friend Milja Gillespie said, “Creepy is the new cool.” As mobile devices allow for a greater breadth of Right Time Experiences to transpire, what is considered invasive, or creepy, today could just as well morph into the norm of tomorrow.
So the question remains, are we being coaxed into handing over too much information? Are we the proverbial frogs sitting in hot water and not noticing the temperature rising? Are we trading convenience over concern? Perhaps our information isn’t as important or personal as we believe. Is “creepy” just us old crumedgeons not making way for the new? On the plus side, if creepy is the new cool, then perhaps Tom Cruise will someday be able to mount a comeback.
Benjamin Robbins is a founding partner of Palador, a consultancy that provides strategic guidance and execution to enterprises in the areas of mobility, apps, and data. Benjamin has spent the last 15 years working with organizations on shaping and implementing their technical vision. Benjamin is a leader in the enterprise mobility field. Besides writing on remotelyMOBILEblog.com, he is also a regular contributor to the Enterprise Mobility Forum and The Guardian on mobility topics such as strategy, BYOD, The Consumerization of IT, Enterprise Mobility Management, and security. Benjamin is currently in the middle of a year-long experiment of working solely from his smartphone.