Like doctors with a cranky, dangerous patient, Mexico’s volcano watchers notice every blink, breath, sneeze and cough of Popocatepetl.
MEXICO CITY (AP) — In a clean, hushed room in the south of Mexico City, cameras, computer screens and scrawling needles track the symptoms of a special patient, as they have every second of every day for the past two decades. The monitors indicate that “Don Goyo” is breathing normally, even as he spews hot rock, steam and ash.
That kind of activity isn’t unusual for the 17,886-foot volcano, Mexico’s second-highest, whose formal name is Popocatepetl, or “Smoking Mountain” in the Aztec language Nahuatl. But this volcano, personified first as a warrior in Aztec legend and now as an old man grumbling with discontent, is in the middle of two metro areas, where his every spurt can put 20 million people on edge.
It’s not. Facebook is almost certainly interested in the mutual self-tracking club behind the map rather than the map itself. The way Waze works, you see, is that everyone who downloads fresh traffic data is also contributing fresh traffic data; the app regularly and automatically uploads your physical locations which can be used to determine your speed. (Here’s a video about it.)
To Facebook, Waze must look like a fantastic engine to drive “check-ins,” where users freely share their physical location with the social network and with their friends. (Neither Facebook nor Waze are commenting on their alleged acquisition talks.) Trapped in the Waze app, location data is anonymous and thus difficult to sell to advertisers. If integrated with Facebook, however, the same location data becomes hugely valuable, since it would be tied to Facebook identities, including demographic and social information beloved by advertisers.
If Facebook can acquire Waze and get users to check in their whereabouts with it, it will be like opening the spigot on a new firehose of user activity and, more importantly, advertising dollars. It will also give Facebook a handy edge in its competition with Foursquare, a social network built entirely around check-ins
Location sharing would also bring huge value to Facebook if the data collected by the app could be converted to formal Facebook “check ins,” which can be used as an excuse to show coupons and other special offers from nearby businesses and which can be commented on by a user’s friends.
Until now, Facebook users haven’t had much motivation to use the social network’s check-in feature. Foursquare offers badges and discounts to people who check in. Facebook has no badges, and while it does provide for check-in-related discounts, its check-ins seem mainly used by users to provide information to their friends.
To provide stronger motivation for check-ins, Facebook is considering offering free Wi-Fi access at cafes and other locations, but so far has only run very limited experiments. The Waze app would be a much more elegant catalyst for check-ins. Instead offering the rough equivalent of a bribe from Facebook, Waze offers participation in a virtuous cycle among peers: if you let me track your car a little bit, I’ll let you track my car a little bit, and we’ll both get where we’re going faster.
If Facebook can use Waze to prove that there are good, selfish reasons for people to share their locations on the road, it will then be a short step for the company to posit that people should share their locations all of the time. Facebook could turn Waze into a sort of stalkery version of Siri, watching your daily movements and providing helpful reminders, like a nudge to leave the office in time for spin class, or an alert that if you don’t finish your morning coffee in the next three minutes, you’ll probably miss your train. That sounds creepy now, but you might change your mind the first time Stalker Siri keeps you from missing your flight.
CIA’s Gus Hunt On Big Data: We ‘Try To Collect Everything And Hang Onto It Forever’
NEW YORK — The CIA’s chief technology officer outlined the agency’s endless appetite for data in a far-ranging speech on Wednesday.
Speaking before a crowd of tech geeks at GigaOM’s Structure:Data conference in New York City, CTO Ira “Gus” Hunt said that the world is increasingly awash in information from text messages, tweets, and videos — and that the agency wants all of it.
“The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time,” Hunt said. “Since you can’t connect dots you don’t have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang onto it forever.”
Hunt’s comments come two days after Federal Computer Week reported that the CIA has committed to a massive, $600 million, 10-year deal with Amazon for cloud computing services. The agency has not commented on that report, but Hunt’s speech, which included multiple references to cloud computing, indicates that it does indeed have interest in storage and analysis capabilities on a massive scale.
The CIA is keenly interested in capabilities for so-called “big data” — the increasingly massive data sets created by digital technology. The agency even has a page on its website pitching big data jobs to prospective employees.
Hunt acknowleded that at some scale, data storage becomes impractical, adding that he meant “forever being in quotes” when he said the agency wants to keep data “forever.” But he also indicated that he was interested in computing capabilities like 1 petabyte of RAM, a massive capacity for on-the-fly calculations that has heretofore been seen only in computers that simulate nuclear explosions.
He referenced the failure to “connect the dots” in the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber” who was able to board a plan with an explosive device despite repeated warnings of his intentions. In that case, a White House review found that the CIA had all of the data it needed to identify the would-be bomber, but still failed to stop him. Nevertheless, the agency does not seem to have curbed its ambitions for an endless amount of data.
A slide from Hunt’s presentation.
“It is really very nearly within our grasp to be able to compute on all human generated information,” Hunt said. After that mark is reached, Hunt said, the agency would also like to be able to save and analyze all of the digital breadcrumbs people don’t even know they are creating.
“You’re already a walking sensor platform,” he said, nothing that mobiles, smartphones and iPads come with cameras, accelerometers, light detectors and geolocation capabilities.
“You are aware of the fact that somebody can know where you are at all times, because you carry a mobile device, even if that mobile device is turned off,” he said. “You know this, I hope? Yes? Well, you should.”
Hunt also spoke of mobile apps that will be able to control pacemakers — even involuntarily — and joked about a “dystopian” future where self-driving cars force people to go to the grocery store to pick up milk for their spouses.
Hunt’s speech barely touched on privacy concerns. But he did acknowledge that they exist.
“Technology in this world is moving faster than government or law can keep up,” he said. “It’s moving faster I would argue than you can keep up: You should be asking the question of what are your rights and who owns your data.”