Information Commissioner’s Office on mobile location analytics

Heritage sites experimenting with MLA take note. The ICO yesterday released a blog post addressing the potential danger to privacy of Mobile Location Analytics and, incidentally, Intelligent Video Analytics. Simon Rice, Group Manager for Technology, who also sits on the International Working Group on Data Protection in Telecommunications, says “Here at the ICO, we’re interested in Wi-Fi location tracking because it could involve the use of personal data. This means it falls under the Data Protection Act and that’s where we come in. […] The use of this type of technology is not just confined to the retail environment – airports, railway stations and even city-wide Wi-Fi networks could use it to monitor individuals. […] Therefore the working group has written a list of recommendations for use of the technology.”

The working paper itself is worth a read, and definitely more balanced than some newspaper coverage (as usual). It makes many references to checking out what you are planning against the local legislation wherever you are working, but also recommends seven safeguards that should be built into your work (and which, I imaging will be built into legislation over time):

  1. Notification to individuals – Organisations must ensure that there is sufficient information, including a range of physical and digital signage, to clearly inform individuals that location technology is in operation. The information must clearly state the purpose for collection and identify the organisation responsible. It is recommended that the industry develop a standard symbol which can be distributed throughout an area to remind individuals that the technology is in operation, similar to the effect from CCTV signage. Specific consideration must be given to staff, employees or other individuals who, if not excluded from the tracking, may be subject to extensive data collection;
  2. Limiting the bounds of data collection – Collection should only take place once the
    individual has been suitably informed and organisations must not seek to collect and
    monitor outside their premises. This can be achieved through careful placement of receivers, limiting data collection through a sampling method and to specified time periods or times of day (e.g., during store opening hours). The frequency of collection
    should also be limited to that which supports the specified purpose. The use of airgaps to create a non-contiguous data collection area and ensuring that collection only takes place in areas which are relevant to the specified purpose should also reduce the risk of privacy intrusion. Organisations should also seek to identify “privacy zones” where no tracking can take place as a result of technical or physical measures. This can be important in areas which have particular sensitivity such as toilets or rooms set aside for first-aid or worship. In jurisdictions where tracking outside of the organisation’s premises can be carried out in compliance with the law, sufficient safeguards should be in place to protect individuals’ privacy;
  3. Anonymise data without delay – Organisations should seek to delete or anonymise
    data as soon as the data is no longer required in its original form;
  4. Appropriate retention of individual level data – In cases where there is a clear legal
    basis for the processing of personal data, organisations should apply methods to
    convert unique identifiers, such as MAC addresses, into a form which reduces the potential for privacy intrusion. For example, if the identification of repeat visits is not envisaged then pseudonymising the identifier would prevent this possibility yet still provide sufficient analytics of daily footfall and routes taken. At the end of the legally
    permissible retention period, the relevant data should be anonymised or securely destroyed. An analysis comparing events over multiple reporting periods (e.g., percentage change in visitors in a given period of time) can be performed by comparing individual period aggregates;
  5. Consent for the combination with other information – Individuals should be fully
    informed when location data is intended to be combined with other information such
    as transaction history. This is especially relevant when location tracking is added as a
    feature to an existing loyalty scheme, for example, adding BLE beacon functionality to
    an existing retailer’s smart phone app. The user’s acceptance of an update via the
    app store is unlikely to be sufficient to qualify as being fully informed. Legislation in
    some jurisdictions may also require explicit consent for certain types of personal
    data;
  6. Consent for the sharing of individually identifiable data with third parties – Organisations should not share data which could be used to identify an individual with
    third parties without the valid informed consent of the individual concerned (this would include sharing data with other clients of a single third-party location analytics provider) unless there is a lawful exception; and
  7. Implement a simple and effective means to control collection – Organisations
    should also establish a system which allows individuals to control the collection of
    such data even in cases where this is not explicitly required by applicable privacy legislation. Organizations should prominently display the existence of choice and control options in the area of data collection. This should include an easily accessible, clearly communicated and effective means to exert control. It is recommended that a single mechanism be supported by all operators of location analytics services such that an individual is only required to express their preference once. If the tracking is based on informed consent then individuals must be enabled to revoke their consent in an easy and persistent manner. Where technically possible, clear audit trails allowing end users to know when and for what purpose data has been collected about their devices and by whom would also be recommended. Users should also be enabled to delete all or part of the previously collected data.

Roxanne, you don’t have to pull out your Bluetooth phone

[Yes, this post may seem familiar to long time readers. I’ve edited it and reposted it because, a) its a good post, and deserves to be read; and, b) I’m submitting this version for publication. Forgive my hubris.]

An augmented reality app available for download before visiting the Royal Museums, Greenwich (photo, Matthew Tyler-Jones)
An augmented reality app available for download before visiting the Royal Museums, Greenwich (photo, Matthew Tyler-Jones)

Lets cut to the chase. There are a LOT of companies out there selling (or trying to sell) smartphone based apps for visitors on site. The allure of mobile apps is difficult to deny. The museum/heritage site doesn’t have to lease expensive proprietary technology, dedicate space to storing and charging the same, or have infrastructure/staffing in place to hand out and collect these expensive bits of tech. Not only that, if everybody is bringing a screen with them, the museum can save money on screens around to the galleries to display video. Those little screens can be used to augment reality. They can adapt to offer everything from simple kids trails to in-depth information. Audio can be piped directly to the visitor’s ears, without speakers and ambient music adding noise pollution to the list of things that irritate other visitors.

And surely most enticing of all, the museum can make use of archives, oral histories and content that there simply wouldn’t be space for, in the physical realm. Without having to spend on the hardware, cultural heritage sites can invest in putting their hidden stories, collections and archives into user’s hands, creating compelling content.

But is mobile content that compelling?

I’m not denying that some people want to use a smartphone (or Google Glass) to enable a better understanding of a place. But I am saying the majority of visitors really don’t want to use a smartphone or any other mobile device when they are on site. And why would they? They have travelled to, and are immersed in one of the most significant/beautiful/interesting places they know. Why would they want to look at any part of it through a four (or five, or six, or nine) inch screen?

It turns out that smartphones (and tablets, but from now on, just read “mobile devices” when I write “smartphones”, or even “phones”) are not seen by their users as a cheap and personal way for people to interact with the space they are in. Look around you, wherever you are reading this. If you are on a train or bus, you’ll see people passing time reading, watching or playing with their phones. If the conversation is flagging in a social situation it may be that people have their phones out and are checking twitter or Facebook. They are using their phones to transport themselves away from the place they are in.

From the moment Alexander Graham Bell said “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you” phones have always been a method of teleportation – into the next room in Bell’s case, but nowadays back to our homes or places of work, closer to absent friends, around the globe, and even into virtual worlds. Even the act of taking a photograph (which some might argue is an interaction with your surroundings) is an act of transportation, whether it’s to your friends’ sides as you Tweet the image, or back to your home where you are already in the future, remembering this scene.

There’s nothing wrong with using your phone to remove yourself from a space of course. This isn’t a rant against mobile devices. I have no problem with people using their phones at concerts (which seems to fill some others with irrational hatred), or at cultural heritage sites, if they want to take a photograph or remove themselves to the great reference library that is the internet, or to tell a friend what a great time they are having. But lets make no bones about it, when a visitor to a site uses a phone, even if its to hear Stephen Fry (or some equally capable voice talent) tell them a story about the place, they are removing themselves from their surroundings*.

And most people don’t want that. They have come to this place (they may even have used their phones to help transport them to this place – with on-line bookings or GPS route-finding) to be in the place.

So why do we offer them an app on a device that transports them away? Because of the interactivity? The ability to chose what you want to read about, listen to, or watch? Even the most passive visitor interacts with a place simply by choosing how to wander around it. Our visitors are making choices all the time. Their day is full of choices. Very, very rarely do we ever get feedback from a visitor along the lines of “I really wanted to make more decisions.”

The interactivity is inherent in the cultural heritage visit. Museums shouldn’t need to spend money on technology to make the visit more interactive, what they need to work on is making the place more responsive.

So when the phone user does want to take his phone out to look something up, a responsive site makes it easy for him (or her) to connect to the internet, to find the information s/he needs (however unpredictable his/her needs may be) and to download it. Custom apps for smartphones are sold to heritage sites for tens of thousands of pounds. It would surely cost a lot less simply to make sure there’s a pervasive wifi signal and a pointer to the place’s website and/or on-line catalogue.

Once that’s in place, then we can build something that works with visitors’ phone to enable the site to be even more responsive, while keeping the visitors firmly immersed in the place, and their phones in their pockets:

A phone regularly sends out a little signal that says “I’m this phone and I’m here.” Recent developments in Bluetooth LE only add granularity to that message. It only take’s the visitor’s consent and the site’s IT infrastructure to turn the signal into “I’m this visitor, and this is where I’ve been.” And that information enables the site to be far more responsive, relevant, to understand the visitor’s interests, to make connections with what they’ve already seen, to tell better stories.

To better connect the visitor with the place.

Which is what we’re all here for, isn’t it?

*There’s some strength in the argument that an audio tour is better at not getting between the visitor and what they are looking at – if only because our ears are behind our eyes, so with headphones on it always sounds like Stephen Fry (or whoever the presenter might be) is standing just behind your shoulder.

@HeritageJam 2015 diary 3 – Progress

Its been 14 days since Heritage Jam 2015 was launched, half-way, and we’ve seen definite progress on one of the projects I’m involved with. That progress is more about the scope of the project rather than actual technical achievement (though there has been some of that too). We have now set a modest (but still stretching, especially for my limited coding skills) goal for our on-line participation, of having a basic proof of concept prototype ready to try out at the in-person Jam at the end of the month.

Our ultimate ambition is to create an open source, relatively cheap, off-line system to track visitors’ around cultural heritage sites, as mentioned (with a brief discussion of the ethics) in my last post on the subject.

But our goal for the on-line element of the Jam is to get a Rasberry Pi set up, with a wi-fi dongle capable of being put into monitor mode, a Real Time Clock and with DumpCap installed, working as a sniffer – detecting mobile devices, and using Relative Signal Strength Indicator as a proxy for proximity. Then, after testing it in my house, creating some R code to analyse the data, pulling out the useful bits, and maybe using GGobi  to visualize them in some way.

Assuming we can achieve that I’ll take the kit to the in-person Jam at York and see if I can find a place to set it up in a real world experiment, maybe with an activity that will involve encouraging users to go in and out of the monitored space, to see if we can log the same MAC addresses approaching and withdrawing from the RPi.

What’s not in scope, but the obvious next stage, would be to have two RPis doing the same thing in the same space with synchronised clocks, and then trying to match the records for each MAC address, but lets not overstretch ourselves.

Anybody else jamming on something similar?

Right now, I’m off to University, to take a couple of library books back and (hopefully) meet up with a team-mate from my other on-line Jamming team, to discuss that project, which has not made similar progress… or even started really.

Museums and Heritage Show 2015

I spent most of yesterday volunteering at Clandon so, in a middle of catching up on writing my literature review, just a short post today.

The Museums and Heritage show seemed more exciting this year than last, with a healthier buzz among both participants and exhibitors. Last year I left the show after only a couple of hours. This year I stayed all day, and was so engaged in conversations with stall-holders and with old and current colleagues that I’d happened to meet, that I missed out on a couple of seminars that I wanted to attend.

Apart from the free seminars, the show floor itself was alive with master classes run from the stands themselves. Like these two:

 on being a better guide;

 and, on writing for interpretation.

It was refreshing to see that the show wasn’t infested with companies offering “apps” as it had been for the last two years. And I spoke to most if not all those companies that remained and came away feeling confident that most of these “get it” and, to varying degree, are willing to push at the technology to better serve the visitor.

Get ready for Karen #KarenIsMyLifeCoach

Yesterday I finished playtesting Blast Theory’s soon to be released app, Karen. I don’t want to say too much about it, because I don’t want to spoil any surprises for you, and it’ll shortly (hopefully next week, pending approval, and assuming is ran as well for other playtesters as it did on my device) be free to download for iOS from the App Store. So you’ll be able to try it for youself, Android users will also get their turn, but not quite as soon. Its a culmination of the work on profiling that Blast Theory have been exploring over the last couple of years.

Its a great piece of interactive art. I’ll go so far as to say the best interactive story I’ve played. If only because it manages to create a sublime sense of real interaction. I’m not making decisions for an avatar, like John Martsen in Red Dead Redemption, but for myself. I’m telling Karen about me, not about what, for example, Marcus in Blood and Laurels, might do. I can tell the truth or I can lie (in fact I shuffled uneasily between the two) but that choice is mine.

Do I change Karen’s story through my decisions? To be honest, I don’t know, I’ve only had time to play through once. But the illusion of true interaction was surprisingly effective.

I especially like the use of Lickert sliders to answer some questions, which allowed me to be more “true to myself” than the multiple choice answers available for the other questions. Karen’s in a nuanced story, and sometimes I wanted, but was unable, to give a nuanced reply.

It’s great fun, get it. Its free after all. Maybe don’t play it in front of the kids, Karen can turn the conversation on a dime to subjects you might not want them to listen to. And decide now what you are going to tell your significant other about playing it, because Karen will be asking about them too…

Oh and my name is in the credits, look:

IMG_5803

I made this! (Or rather, I bunged them a tenner on Kickstarter a while back). Oh, and hey, they are in the news already!

Put your phones away

This video came out a couple of years ago. It’s wordless, but it says a lot.

Of course, its nothing we haven’t heard before: people spend a lot of time in social situations looking at their smartphones. But they don’t really want to.

Lets cut to the chase. There are a LOT of companies out there selling (or trying to sell) smartphone based apps for visitors on site. But none of them are worth it.

I’m not denying that some people want to use a smartphone (or Google Glass) to enable a better understanding of a place. But I am saying the majority of visitors really don’t want to use a smartphone or any other mobile device when they are on site. And why would they? They have traveled to, and are immersed in one of the most significant/beautiful/interesting places they know. Why would they want to look at any part of it through a four (or five, or six, or nine) inch screen?

Smartphones (and tablets, but from now on, just read “mobile devices” when I write “smartphones”, or even “phones”) are seen by all those app companies as a cheap and personal way for people to interact with the space they are in. But they are not. Look at the behaviors of those phone users in the video, they are not using them to interact with their surroundings. They are using their phones to transport themselves away from the place they are in.

From the moment Alexander Graham Bell said “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you” phones have always been a method of transportation – into the next room in Bell’s case, but nowadays back to our homes or places of work, closer to absent friends, around the globe, and even into virtual worlds. Even the act of taking a photograph (which some might argue is an interaction with your surroundings) is an act of transportation, whether its to your friends’ sides as you Tweet the image, or back to your home where you are already in the future, remembering this scene.

There’s nothing wrong with using your phone to remove yourself from a space of course. This isn’t a rant against mobile devices. I have no problem with people using their phones at concerts (which seems to fill some others with irrational hatred), or at cultural heritage sites, if they want to take a photograph or remove themselves to the great reference library that is the internet, or to tell a friend what a great time they are having. But lets make no bones about it, when a visitor to a site uses a phone, even if its to hear Stephen Fry (or some equally capable voice talent) tell them a story about the place, they are removing themselves from their surroundings*.

And most people don’t want that. They have come to this place (they may even have used their phones to help transport them to  this place – with on-line bookings or GPS route-finding) to be in the place.

So why do we offer them an app on a device that transports them away? Because of the interactivity? The ability to chose what you want to read about, listen to, or watch? Even the most passive visitor interacts with a place simply by choosing how to wander around it. Our visitors are making choices all the time. Their day is full of choices. Very very rarely do we ever get feedback from a visitor along the lines of “I really wanted to make more decisions.”

The interactivity is inherent in the cultural heritage visit. Sites don’t want to waste money on technology to make the visit more interactive, what they need to work on is making the place more responsive.

So when the phone user does want to take his phone out to look something up, a responsive site makes it easy for him (or her) to connect to the internet, to find the information s/he needs (however unpredictable his/her needs may be) and to download it. Custom apps for smartphones are sold to heritage sites for tens of thousands of pounds. It would surely cost a lot less simply to make sure there’s a pervasive wifi signal and a pointer to the place’s website and/or on-line catalog.

Once that’s in place, then we can build something that works with visitors’ phone to enable the site to be even more responsive, while keeping the visitors firmly immersed in the place, and their phones in their pockets:

A phone regularly sends out a little signal that says “I’m this phone and I’m here.” Recent developments in Bluetooth LE only add granularity to that message. It only take’s the visitor’s consent and the site’s IT infrastructure to turn the signal into “I’m this visitor, and this is where I’ve been.” And that information enables the site to be far more responsive, relevant, to understand the visitor’s interests, to make connections with what they’ve already seen, to tell better stories.

To better connect the visitor with the place.

Which is what we’re all here for, isn’t it?

*There’s some strength in the argument that an audio tour is better at not getting between the visitor and what they are looking at – if only because our ears are behind our eyes, so with headphones on it always sounds like Stephen Fry (or whoever the presenter might be) is standing just behind your shoulder.

The talk I gave for York Heritage Research Seminars #YOHRS

I had a great time in York on Tuesday evenings. It was a lovely audience with plenty of comments and questions afterwards. And it was international with people watching from the States (and maybe elsewhere) via Google Hangouts. And then afterwards on to the pub, where the conversation continued with the likes of Nigel Walter, Don Henson (member of the National Trust’s learning panel) and gamingarcheo herself Tara Copplestone, over delicious pints of Thwaits Nutty Black. (The bit in the pub wasn’t livestreamed.)

The advantage of being on Google Hangouts is that all my stumbles, stutters leafing through notes, umms and errs and slideshow reversals are recorded for ever on YouTube’s massive server farms. If you missed it, you can enjoy it now:

The sound is out for the first minute but fear not, it’s not delivered entirely in the medium of mime. This is (approximately) what I said between Sara’s introduction and when the sound kicks in:

I’m going to keep this story simple, and tell it in three parts – the beginning, the middle and the end. In the beginning I’m going to explain why heritage professionals should be interested in digital computer games.In the second part, I’m going to explain why they shouldn’t. And finally I’m going to explore the state of madness to which this dichotomy has driven me.

#GoogleGlass for learning: The National Trust experience

A colleague pointed out this post to me, wherein a Google Glass owner tries a visit to Blickling. Of course he was stymied by a lack of a phone signal – which is common across many of our properties, and by a lack of wifi. Putting public wifi into National Trust buildings, to ensure decent connectivity despite thick stone walls in some places (not at Blickling), and then connecting to a network with enough capacity for tens or hundreds of visitors at a time to have responsive access to the web is a challenge for many, or most National Trust places. But it will become more and more urgent as visitors will expect to learn about places in ways that suit them.

Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

Whilst i enjoy the history, the cream tea is an essential part of the experience. Whether you go jam first, layering your cream on top, or cream first (which, just to be clear, is wrong), there’s nothing quite like sitting in a National Trust cafe, fending off the wasps, to let you know that summer is well and truly here.

Blickling Hall

The National Trust is a charity, set up to preserve landscapes and houses of national importance: originally focused on grand, stately homes, now equally likely to preserve the more humble abodes of writers and musicians. As a member, you can enjoy access to hundreds of properties around the UK, assured of a firmly middle class experience and a nice cup of tea at the end of it. I’m a huge fan.

But it was with some trepidation that, having taken delivery of my GoogleGlass a scant four days earlier, i…

View original post 1,679 more words

Playable Cities videos

I wasn’t able to get to the Playable Cities conference (for the second year running – next year, I must try harder), but handily they put a number of the sessions online at http://www.watershed.co.uk/playablecity/conference14/watch-talks/

They are quite quiet for my deaf old ears, I needed to turn them up to full both in the player and on my computer to get them above a whisper. Though they are all of interest, I’ve embedded linked to (the embedding doesn’t work) a couple of my favorites here. Holly Gramazio offers us a history of public play:

http://apps.watershed.co.uk/mediaembedder?id=456&store=wvs&theme=default&autoplay=false&autobuffer=false

Tom Armitage plays with his cities:

http://apps.watershed.co.uk/mediaembedder?id=459&store=wvs&theme=default&autoplay=false&autobuffer=false

Sam Hill uses SMS for his game, to make it as accessible as possible. (Its good to here the same thought we’d had  on making SMS part of our sadly unfunded Eastleigh project). Great stuff with user generated content too:

http://apps.watershed.co.uk/mediaembedder?id=465&store=wvs&theme=default&autoplay=false&autobuffer=false

And finally Simon Johnson talks pervasive games, including Zombie Chase:

http://apps.watershed.co.uk/mediaembedder?id=469&store=wvs&theme=default&autoplay=false&autobuffer=false

 

 

Bluetooth LE again

An opportunity may be coming up that has been thinking again about heritage spaces and narrative. This year’s Museums and Heritage Show was full of companies offering Bluetooth LE (BLE, or if you prefer, Apple’s trademarked version, iBeacons) interpretation. Most worked along the lines of “approach object/artwork with your device (phone or tablet), and a BLE beacon will tell your device where it is, whereupon it will serve up interesting tidbits of information.”

It strikes me there’s something more imaginative we could be doing with the technology. It all seems so passive. Yes, you have to carry around a device, and no, you don’t have to follow a prescribed route to make sense of an audio guide. But actually that’s all it is, an enhanced audio guide albeit one that occasionally shows you video, or even superimposes things on the objects you are looking at (but only if you look at the object through the camera and screen of the device). Now it could get more interesting if it was an adaptive narrative – one that changed the content according to what you’d already looked at and heard – but it’s still mediated through a device, and the majority of heritage visitors spurn audioguides and don’t download interpretive tours to their phones.

Not everybody likes talking to museum guides, docents or interpreters either, but far more people prefer interaction with other people than with devices. So, can we use BLE technology to enhance face-to-face interaction? To do so, we need to steal a trick from web-services. Most popular web-based services get to be useful for their customers, because they learn about the individual’s needs. Not only do that they use that information to better meet the needs of each individual, they also apply what they’ve learned to new customers. It can all feel a bit sinister, and indeed people do wonder if one-day Google might change its name to Skynet.

But lets assume for a moment that the heritage can be trusted not to use people’s information for evil. To emulate the adaptive web services, cultural heritage sites need to switch their thinking around, rather than identifying things with BLE, they need to identify visitors. So imagine this: on arrival, each visiting group is given a BLE beacon. They might also be asked a few questions about their interests and plans for their visit. Then they are free to enjoy their visit, “your day, your way” we might say.

The guides or docents they might meet are all equipped with a tablet. And as each group approaches the tablet, their BLE beacon will identify itself to the tablet, and that will fetch the information gathered about that group. They might have said they prefer to read labels rather than talk, so the docent with the tablet might choose not to attempt to start a conversation with them unless they ask him or her a question. Or they might have indicated that they do like chatting and have an interest in paintings, in which case, the docent might approach them to offer to talk about a particularly fine nearby work.

The next docent they approach will not only see their preferences, but also note that they have already talked about that particular painting, so that docent can perhaps point out a companion object nearby, which has a particular relevance to the painting. If the site benefits from sharing an overarching narrative with visitors, that narrative can be spit into chunks, and each docent can relate parts that are appropriate to the surroundings but which also take account of the chunks that that the visitors have already heard.

Human beings can make these connections and adaptations far more ably and with more nuance than even the most interactive computer based guide. This approach arms them with knowledge of the visitors’ preferences and previous experiences, and to help them tailor their interpretation to the needs of each visitor. It does away with repetitive opening questions from docents, and the oft repeated “favourite bit of the story” and allows docents to help visitors explore a deeper connection with the place, with more confident knowledge of what visitors have already been told.

An experiment is required to see if the visitors would perceive these benefits and consider them an enhancement of their experience.

For some of the background to this post, see previous posts on Ambient gaming and Gimbal.