5 very cool (but kinda creepy) mobile technologies

Face recognition, voice identification, and augmented reality can enrich the mobile experience -- but they can also be abused in scary ways

5 very cool (but kinda creepy) mobile technologies

The mobile technology business is booming, with cool new applications and services continually emerging so users stay connected, informed, productive, entertained -- or distracted.

But with great mobile technology comes great responsibility (apologies to Spider-Man). Some of the innovations coming down the pike rank high on the creep-o-meter, potentially equipping malicious entities -- both individuals and organizations -- with scary new ways to stalk, scam, and otherwise exploit victims.

There are many cool applications for augmented reality, entertainment, educational, and professional purposes. But the creep factor skyrockets when you consider all the data you're handing over in exchange for that instant information: where you are, who you're with, what you are looking for.

GPS tracking: We know where you are

Mall owners faced public outcry last year after announcing plans to discreetly track shoppers via their personal mobile devices. The purpose was to glean a precise view of customer foot traffic, which in turn could help retailers improve the layout of their businesses. The property owners postponed the project after being accused of violating customers' privacy.

This technology is cool in that it provides detailed, accurate, yet anonymous data on foot traffic, which could be used for designing better laid-out stores, stadiums, city streets, and so on. Unfortunately, it turns creepy fast when you consider that a company could track you anonymously based on your device, collecting identifying information that could be sold or stolen.

Environmental tracking: We know what you're doing

Google secured a patent this week for a technology capable of determining not just where you are but what you're doing based on ambient sounds, temperature, and other environmental conditions.

For example, you might call Google's 411 service, and thanks to the sounds of the crowd and an announcer, Google knows you're attending a baseball game on a cool autumn night. Google could then serve up a targeted ad, such as a coupon for dinner near the stadium or a deal on sweatshirts at the souvenir stand if the weather drops below 60 degrees.

But put to ill use, this technology is great for knowing where you go and what you do when you get there.

Mood and voice recognition: We know how you feel

Fujitsu and Nagoya University have announced a technology capable of "reading" certain moods and intentions. Specifically, the technology aims to quash over-the-phone phishing scams by picking up on keywords from the perpetrator (such as "indebtedness" and "compensation") and by measuring the voice and pitch of the victim. If enough flags go up, you get a scam alert.

Using voice recognition and analyzing voice patterns in the name of stopping crime is pretty cool. However, imagine a bad guy using it while trying to sell you snake oil, being able to change his pitch on the fly as his phone tells him whether you are calm, distressed, or defensive.

Face recognition: We know what you look like

Companies have sought to develop reliable face-recognition software for some time now. Facebook, for example, uses facial recognition to identify your friends in photos. More recently, a startup called Faced.me announced a technology through which you take a user's picture, then the software identifies that person in about a second. After that, you can connect you with that user on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Used securely and prudently, this sort of face-recognition technology is pretty cool. But this turns creepy quickly when a tool for quickly connecting with someone by snapping their picture turns into a tool for secretly and quickly learning someone's identity from a single photo, whether found on the Web or taken candidly with a camera.

Augmented reality: We see what you see

The idea behind augmented reality is that you point a camera-enabled device at something and instantly get information about it. With Autonomy Aurasma, for example, you could point a device at a still photo from a sporting event. The device could identify the scene and start playing a video clip. Google, meanwhile, will reportedly release Google Glasses through which you could, for example, look down a city street and see digital details overlaid on the screen (such as street names, areas of interest, and directions).

Augmented reality has cool applications for entertainment, education, and business. But with it you're pretty much letting a third party "see" in real time where you are, what you're doing, who you're with, and so on.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.