The Accountability of Presence: Location Tracking beyond Privacy

Paul Dourish   Paul Dourish , Department of Informatics, University of California, Irvine

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University October 12, 2007

In all the media hubbub around the recent release of Apple's iPhone, one consistent critique is that  it lacks a GPS unit. It's interesting that, at that point, a claim to technological leadership for a mobile device can founder on this. Mobility is no longer sufficient; location-tracking is a key feature. However, the introduction of location-based technologies has traditionally been accompanied by a series of concerns over privacy. These discussions, though, adopt a fairly reductive model of privacy, concerned primarily with the trade-offs involved in service provision and location disclosure.

Following a strategy of selecting extreme examples as prototypical cases for potential futures, we have been studying a group of paroled sex offenders who are tracked via GPS as part of their parole conditions. We were interested in the way in which pervasive location tracking in a complex social context affects one's experience of everyday space. While the issues that arise are highly specific to their particular situation, they are suggestive of a new set of considerations for location tracking in consumer devices. Based on
our preliminary studies, I will discuss some of these concerns, including the multiple accountabilities of presence at specific places and times, the legibilities of everyday space both from within and without, and the underexamined relationship between mobile technologies and the bodies that carry them.

Paul Dourish is a Professor of Informatics in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at UC Irvine, with courtesy appointments in Computer Science and Anthropology. His primary research interests lie at the intersection of computer science and social science, and he is known particularly for his research in the areas of Ubiquitous Computing, Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, and Human-Computer Interaction. His book, "Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction" was published by MIT Press in 2001; it explores how phenomenological accounts of action can provide an alternative to traditional cognitive analysis for understanding the embodied experience of interactive and computational systems.

Before coming to UCI, he was a Senior Member of Research Staff in the Computer Science Laboratory of Xerox PARC; he has also held research positions at Apple Computer and at Rank Xerox EuroPARC. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from University College, London, and a B.Sc. (Hons) in Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science from the University of Edinburgh.

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