The great collector
Your average smartphone is loaded with lots of sensors that capture information either while using certain apps or permanently. In addition a variety of gadgets add even more sensors or enrich smartphones that don’t have that much sensors.
Common build-in sensors are:
- Location as Latitude & Longitude
- Compass as bearing
- Light intensity and color
- Movement, Acceleration in form of g-force in x,y,z direction
- Radio signals: WiFi signals, Bluetooth Signals, GSM, GPRS, UMTS, LTE signals
Common external sensors:
- Heart rate
Your phone as a variety of applications that make use of those sensor data to enrich your application experience or enrich data captured by your phone. Simple examples are the photos you take with your smartphone will usually be enriched with meta information like the location the photo was taken at, camera equipment and settings, date & time. So will be your posts in popular social networks like Twitter or Facebook if you use the default settings.
Currently Sports tracking or Health apps are very popular. They record the number of steps you make, the pace of your walk as well as the track. You can enter nutrition information or even let an app track your sleep at night with the accelerometer of your phone.
Obviously those data are very personal. They contain a lot information about you, your lifestyle, your surrounding and even the people who spent time with you. A lot of the applications also upload this data to their servers so you can easily share it with your friends, or they can provide you further insights into your data (like your fastest run this year, your longest distance walked etc.).
It’s you but you don’t own it
As with most applications these days nobody bothers to read the terms and conditions of the apps and devices or tries to figure out how these personal data are stored, analysed, shared or even sold.
What’s even more concerning is that most of the time you don’t actually have the opportunity to get your personal data from those apps as a backup or in a format you can reuse it. All this valuable data that is you in essence isn’t actually owned or usable by you.
On the other hand I’m actually thrilled by the opportunities of having all these sensors available to me and record them for my personal use. If there would be a way to retain them and build my own analytics on top of it, I could dream up a variety of cool applications.
A bright future
I actually envision my smartphone as kind of a data hub for cheap & low power sensors that don’t have their own internet connection. Why an Internet connection? Because I want to be able to collect and store data wherever I am. And “the cloud” seems to be a natural choice for collecting all the data. In addition I could grant access to the data I collect and store to 3rd party applications or institutions or persons or companies etc.
In my ideal world I have an application on my smartphone that controls the data collection and distribution for me. This includes internal phone sensors and sensors connected to my phone via Bluetooth LE or similar technologies. In this hub I could name the various sensor readings and decide whether I want to publish them to my personal data archive in the cloud. I would also be able to control which application on my phone has access to the data. To some extend this is already possible on todays phones. But not to the level of granularity I want. My phone might enrich sensor data with information from other sensors our sources. It could add time information to sensor readings or location information for example.
The personal data archive that my phone uploads the data to would be an OpenSource software that can be either self hosted, or offered by a provider/company. The archive stores my sensor data for me and enables me to share it with others. Here I’d be in full control which sensor readings I expose to whom and for how long. A fitness tracking application might get access to my location and speed data. But not to audio, video or nutrition information. I could give access to my location, temperature and light sensor data to the national weather institute to help them optimise their weather models.
It would be also in my hands to ingest faked data or modify the existing data. This way I could trick a fitness tracking application if I want to.
In addition to data from my phone I could also stream data from Internet of Things Devices to my personal data archive. Current applications like Google Nest also upload the data to the Google Cloud. But you don’t really own those data either. There is a variety of Sensor Cloud providers like Spark.io or Relayr’s Wunderbar out there. But they also don’t make it easy to archive and really own your data.
As I do today I would probably happily share my data with many applications vendors and institutes. This is fine for me. But in addition I can control what I share and how long. This doesn’t prevent those who have access to my data to store and reuse them. But at least I still have my original data and can reuse them for whatever I like.
The point of this software being OpenSource is very important to me. Because only then the community of the users can verify whether the software is safe enough to store and share personal data. In addition it should allow all people to build such an archive for their own data, whether they are rich or not. This of course isn’t fully true because you need additional infrastructure like an internet connected server to host the software. But I can also imagine companies to host free or paid instances of the software for people who can’t or don’t want to host it on their own.