Mobile, Locative & Urban Media Ecologies
When was the last time you looked at your map to find out where you are? No, not the one that came with your smartphone, I meant, a physical map? Or ask your friends “How’s your day”, because you already know how it went via their post updates on Facebook? I bet you don’t even go out of your house to play with your mates, or to find a date.
The media ecology that we are living in is constantly tracking us. The devices that we have at home — laptops, tablets, and especially smartphones — are essentially a virtual tracking beacon. Our smartphone is practically an extension of ourselves. It is something that is constantly with us 24/7, whether we want to or not. Where you go, it goes, and it records your location all the time — even when you’re not connected to the internet.
According to de Souza e Silva and Frith (2014), locations are not “isolated entities”; they are “relational and their meaning derives from their ability to develop connections to other locations”. Locations made up part of a person’s identity, and the same is true in the other way round (de Souza e Silva and Frith 2014).
Mapping services like Google Maps make use of the mobile and locative media, such as car navigation. During a heavy traffic congestion, if you have enabled the “My Location” option in Google Maps, your phone sends anonymous information and data statistic, such as how fast you’re moving, to Google for analysis. Combined with data from other users on the road, they can draw up a near accurate report of live traffic conditions and relay that information back to your phone (Miller 2014). Wanting to find a new place to eat but at the same time, you do not want to get out from the comfort of your house? Apps like UberEats and Foodora gives you a broad selection of restaurants and food, and have them delivered to your place with, live tracking of your food from pickup to your doorstep. Even dating app services like Tinder makes dating trivial based on how far apart they are from you and if both person “like” each other, to start a conversation.
Through the social platforms and the mobile and locative media, people are able to influence and control the public space by making them more visible (de Souza e Silva and Frith 2014), such as blogging about place they visit, whether it be an exotic holiday or a local pub down the street. Some businesses have also utilised them to increase engagement and fan participation, e.g. Katy Perry’s disco ball scavenger hunt for her then unknown single’s “Chained to the Rhythm” in early 2017, or the “Cipher Hunt”, a global scavenger puzzle hunt from Disney’s Gravity Falls in 2016. In both cases, fans worked together via social media to solve the clues from different locations, eventually leading them up to the final destination where the grand prize is located.
However, we need to be awry of the full extend of how much data that is being collected and unwitting shared by us, and what does it mean. With the amount and types of data collected from us, such as our location, browsing and spending habits, means that we actually have little to no privacy. For example, even if you do not have Google Maps installed on your phone, Google Play still passes on your whereabouts to other apps installed via API. Uber made a controversial update to their app last year that allowed the company to continue tracking the location of users, even after they reached their destination and close their app until the company removed the feature in late 2017 (Toor 2017).
There is also dangers of laying out your whole life on social media. Thinking of live streaming on Facebook of you and your family having a blast overseas? You are essentially indirectly advertising that nobody is at home and, in the wrong hands, may encourage crime of opportunity, e.g. robbing the house. Then there is also danger of identity theft, with fraudsters mining your personal data from social media, with the BBC News reporting last year that there were more than 148,000 victims in the UK in 2015, compared with 94,500 in 2014.
With great power, comes with great responsibility. The power of social media platforms and the mobile and locative media have created ways for us to achieve a lot of things that would be challenging, even impossible without them. Be it for practical uses (traffic updates) or for mindless, fun entertainment (online scavenger hunt), it changes the way we think and interact with our environments and also to each other. While having all of our data being dumped on the Internet could spelled a disaster through exploitation, I think armed with the knowledge and understanding on where the data goes, how could it be potentially used, and just some general common sense, we could mitigate most of the downsides.
BBC News 2016, “ID thieves ‘hunting’ on social media”, BBC News, viewed 17 October, 2017, <http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-36701297>.
Miller, G 2014, “The Huge, Unseen Operation Behind the Accuracy of Google Maps”, WIRED, viewed 11 October, 2017, <https://www.wired.com/2014/12/google-maps-ground-truth/>.
Silva, D. S., & A. & Frith, J. (2014). Re-narrating the city through the presentation of Location. The Mobile Story, 34–50.
Toor, A 2017, “Uber will no longer track your location after your ride is over”, The Verge, viewed 17 October, 2017, <https://www.theverge.com/2017/8/29/16219542/uber-location-tracking-app-ios-android-privacy>.