Some of the most innovative technology concepts that have emerged over the past year have integrated the idea of “social” in entirely new, forward-thinking ways. As we’ve seen, these technologies have the ability to quickly become indispensable to us – creating conveniences we’ve only imagined, new ways to connect and new worlds to explore. At face value, many of these technologies are plain cool. But, with the upside of cool, comes the downside of privacy. The further technology and social become united, the more privacy boundaries become a factor and the more we start to wonder, “is there anything off limits anymore?”
On that note, here is Antler’s end-of-year 2011 list of new social technology that’s so creepy, it’s cool.
This app offers a solution to the age-old question, “Where are you?” A quick and easy alternative to texting, EchoEcho allows you to share your location with anyone in your address book. Instead of texting back and forth to find out exactly where your friend is (“Wait, you’re by which Starbucks??”), you simply find their name in your contact list and request to view their location on a map.
Why it’s scary: Theoretically, anyone can see exactly where you are at any time. Yes, you do need to give permission to the person requesting your location, but who’s to say denying permission won’t become as insensitive as “forgetting” to respond to your cousin’s four annoying voice mails?
The upside: There are many situations in which EchoEcho could become very handy. You lost your friends at a loud outdoor festival. You’re seven blocks away from your brother and want to agree on a nearby location to meet up. Your street marketing team needs a place to regroup at noon. No more walkie-talkies at amusement parks… have I made my point?
This is another location-based app that merges social media to uncover who you might have a connection with wherever you are. After you check in with Foursquare, Sonar pulls up a list of people who have also checked in at the same place, and ranks it by who you have the most connections with through Facebook, Twitter, etc. Then it collects info from various profiles to tell you a bit more, like what interests you have in common.
Why it’s scary: Whoever thought you’d be able to press a few buttons and find out that the person next to you is from Atlanta, works for AT&T, plays ultimate Frisbee on the weekends and likes Adele? Well, you can, and that might just be too stalker-creep for us to handle.
The upside: This turns networking into a whole new animal. Just check out the demo shot Sonar’s given on its homepage. Their ideal example aside, Sonar gives you talking points for painfully awkward social events. This alone is an invaluable plus for which we can’t thank it enough.
Okay. Let’s take it to the next level. SceneTap is an app that lets you see real-time demographics for your favorite bars, including number of people, male-to-female ratio and average age. How does it do this, you ask? Each participating establishment installs a camera with the lens facing the door. Facial detection technology determines the age and gender of people coming in, then feeds that information to the app.
Why it’s scary: If this doesn’t immediately unsettle you, then I don’t know what to say. Cameras installed to record your every bar-hopping move just seems like a huge invasion of privacy. Who’s to say this won’t move from facial detection to facial recognition, the likes of what Facebook uses to tag photos? Hello Big Brother.
The upside: Well for one, it’s an easy way to tell if a bar will be a waste of your time, because you can check to see whether it’s full of dudes, ladies or unsavory types. And the company insists that the data is streamed straight to the app and no video is recorded, so users can’t view the feed—in other words, it’s not a security camera. All that aside, SceneTap does offer a cool way of analyzing demographics in real-time. Technology like this would be useful for an array of establishments outside of the nightlife scene, from retail stores to promotional events.
So there you have it. Though most of the information these apps use is stuff we’ve elected to publish on the web anyways, aggregating it in such a way can nevertheless feel like an invasion of privacy. And it’s clear to see the progressive track these technology services are on. Slightly scary now, really scary in its next iteration. The question is whether the usefulness of these apps overrides any discomfort we may have over our so-called “privacy.”
What do you think? Are you creeped out, or excited for the developments to come?