Location-Based Lowlives

January 31st, 2003

Location-Based LowlivesI’ve been envisioning freakish scenarios that are bound to arise soon, when location-aware devices embrace payment and auction systems.

Imagine driving in circles, seeking a parking spot on a busy block in a crowded city. Your device immediately finds four people who are preparing to evacuate parking spaces within a few blocks of you:

  • Ted demands a digital $5 payment before he’ll let his spot go.
  • Jeanine’s parking space is up for auction. She’ll give it up to whoever posts the highest bid by the time she’s ready to leave, three minutes from now.
  • Marcus wants to give his space to a friend. He specified that anyone within two degrees of separation from him in his community of friends and colleagues can claim the spot.
  • Bill will give up his spot too — but in return he demands $40 or twenty-four bottles of Zima.

    Bill the fruit loop has plenty of time to spare and he lives for this crap; he’s prepared to stubbornly hog that parking spot for hours, until someone meets his demands. What happens when Bill and his money-grubbing cronies take over all the public toilets at an outdoor concert? Not even our jiffy-johns are safe from speculating sleazebags.

    I’m exaggerating, but the point stands: we’ll face scenarios where a minority of selfish jerks can use location-aware networked technologies to manufacture new hassles in public spaces. Left unchecked, these are just the sorts of hassles that can draw more lawyers and politicians into the mix, just the sorts of hassles that can eventually prompt lumbering government bureaucracies to enact broad, boneheaded legislation that can hamstring innovation.

    We should think through such scenarios now, and devise strategies for discouraging such abuse long before legislation and litigation rear their ugly heads.

    (Thanks to for inspiring this line of thinking. I love headmap because its authors spend a lot of time just imagining how location-aware technologies will fit into everyday life, then they write up their most intriguing thoughts and scenarios.)

  • 2 Responses to “Location-Based Lowlives”

    1. comment number 1 by: Ben Hammersley

      In these scenarios, it’s either the market, or mob rule that deal with it. For Bill, either someone wants to park so badly he gets his handjob, or no one wants to park that badly that he has to drop his price. For the public toilets squatters, it’s the wrath of a few hundred toilet-needing concert goers.

      The strategy for discouraging such abuse is exactly the same as the strategy we have now for stopping people doing the same thing without the tech: large men with sticks who really need to go.

    2. comment number 2 by: Dav

      I don’t think that strategies that work in the RealWorld necessarily carry over to the Wired. For example, the recent hoopla over Laurie Garnett’s email to a few personal friends that got plastered all over the Internet; if her communication had been nit been mediated over the Internet it is unlikely it would have turned into such a phenomenon.

      Some RealWorld systems that maintain societal stability may carry over but don’t necessarily naturally occur on the Internet. Effective reputation systems did not emerge without effort, they are being deliberately modelled and implemented.