Science Daily reported on May 21, 2007, that researchers* at the University of Illinois have developed a protocol for Geographic Information Systems (GIS) that was adopted by the International Standards Organization (ISO) earlier this year. This protocol forms what one researcher says is the “backbone” for Location Based Services (LBS), or the ability to track physical locations electronically. LBS has already been introduced on cell phones in Korea and Japan and is now becoming available in the United States.

Beyond the obvious ability to track a person through their cell phone, LBS promises to be able to function as a “hotel concierge,” providing information about available products and services or even locations where traffic is congested. The U of I researchers applauded ISO’s adoption of the standard, saying that the goal was to “provide efficient service at the least cost” by trying to avoid a standards war like the Beta/VHS war back in the 1980s. Read the Science Daily article here.

The Good:

LBS promises to provide services that many people will want to have. Parents would like to be able to track their children, particularly given the dangers those children face in an increasingly dangerous world. First responders will be able to use the service to track down missing people or people in need of emergency services, and corporations would like to be able to advertise their locations and products in ways that make it easy for consumers to find them.

The Bad:

Privacy advocates will point to the “Big Brother” type applications for law enforcement and government.

The Ugly:

It will be far more difficult to play hooky from work to attend a sporting event if the boss can track you down.

More Information:

KPN tests location-based services (Telecom Paper)

BBC Bets Its Future On Location-Based Services (MocoNews)

A British company wants to use lampposts for LBS (

There are an incredible number of applications possible for LBS, from targeted advertisements reminiscent of “Minority Report” to improved EMS and Search and Rescue operations. What are the implications for the use of LBS in the United States? Are there privacy safeguards that should be put into place before LBS takes off here? Is LBS a panacea for paranoid parents or a living nightmare for privacy advocates? Join the discussion.

*T. John Kim, professor of urban and regional planning and postdoctoral fellow Sung-Gheel Jang were the researchers who created the standard adopted by the ISO.