Looking for a lost child is a nightmare every parent fears. The LIVELINE project is developing a solution using mobile satellite navigation tracking that could ease those concerns.
Today, there are over 50 million mobile phone handsets with location capability. And this number is growing very rapidly. Location-based services and applications are already being developed. Such services could provide great benefits for the carers of the more vulnerable members of society and the vulnerable people themselves.
But such tracking services also raise some big questions that need to be explored: how can providers assure users that the services are secure, and what are the implications for guarding the privacy of individuals?
LIVELINE is investigating the answers to such questions by developing a commercial, secure location sharing service for use by vulnerable people. It will be based on the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) and the related EGNOS Data Access Service (EDAS).
The LIVELINE project, funded by the European Commission through the Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7), was launched in January 2010 and is scheduled to last 18 months.
Who is vulnerable?
LIVELINE is focusing on an application to help families track younger people and the elderly. “We define a vulnerable person as somebody whose unexpected absence would create a high level of concern and anxiety with their close relatives or care providers,” explains Wim Lahaye of project coordinator DKE Aerospace. “In the project we have chosen to focus on vulnerable people in a family context rather than an institutional context.”
Children and elderly relatives are vulnerable to getting lost or becoming victims of accidents or crime. A technology that securely tracks a vulnerable person’s location and shares it with other people can help in finding them quickly, removes needless worry and reduces unnecessary police interventions.
“The final goal of the project is a product that combines the highest security expected from a location sharing system with the joy of sharing and interaction that we expect from a social web application,” says Lahaye.
Sharing location on the social Web
The technology is based around an existing innovative location-sharing social web service – Bliin.com – a LIVELINE partner based in the Netherlands. Bliin won the 2007 European Satellite Navigation Competition’s regional prize for South Holland. During 2008–09 the company also participated in the European Space Agency’s business incubation. The Agency’s Technology Transfer Programme Office supported the company during the development phase of their system.
“The current bliin.com product allows friend finding and other location-based services. Bliin believes that location is a commodity,” says Lahaye. “Our task is to maximise the security of such a service and tailor it for our targeted users. We will also incorporate advanced EGNOS technology to increase the positioning accuracy.”
Another technical feature of the proposed service will be the wide variety of hardware (both mobile devices and fixed computers) that can be used to access the service.
Bliin.com allows users with GPS-enabled phones to share their location with the service’s central server. This information is used to display their position on a map, which is shared with friends or may be viewed by all of Bliin.com’s users depending on the options selected by the user sharing their location.
DKE Aerospace, which is based in Luxembourg, contributes its experience in EGNOS and EDAS technologies to add more precision to the service. Project partner Itrust Consulting, another Luxembourg-based company in the project, is providing their expertise in security protocols and secure communications.
Protection versus privacy
Meanwhile, project partner Hoger Instituut voor Gezinswetenschappen (HIG), a Belgium-based research and training centre on family sciences, is investigating how the LIFELINE application can strike the right balance between privacy and protection, a significant challenge for the project.
“Finding the right balance between a child’s right to privacy and the parents obligations – and need – to protect their children is a culturally sensitive and controversial societal issue,” says Lahaye. “Fortunately our partners from HIG have the skills and experience to investigate these matters through surveys, focus groups and other social science techniques.”
Finding an acceptable trade-off will be difficult and is bound to be age-related. “An initial finding is that children under 12 years old will need a greater level of protection, while those over 12 may expect a greater level of privacy,” says Lahaye. “But these are areas that need much further discussion during the project.”
LIVELINE wants to contribute to the public debate concerning location privacy. Introducing security in social location-based services and location-sharing systems will prevent abuse and create a positive awareness in society about such services.
“Unsecured location-based services are already being launched and will be used by younger people,” says Lahaye. “So it is important that technical security is developed and the privacy issues discussed.”
Hopefully, a better understanding of user requirements, based on knowledge of their concerns, expectations, rights and obligations derived from the project will produce the basis for industry standards for location-based service providers.
Galileo Application Days in Brussels
At Galileo Application Days in Brussels LIVELINE will be demonstrating the system’s concept with a number of students playing members of the ‘younger community’ and offering visitors the opportunity to be ‘mum’ or ‘dad’.
Visitors will be able to track and find the youngsters around the event’s Application Village in a high-tech version of hide-and-seek.
“Obviously it is early days for our project, but the demonstration will give people a good taste of what the project is about – and should be fun,” says Lahaye. “It will also be an opportunity to bring up the ethical issues in the project and our concerns about security. I hope it will start a lively discussion.”
Galileo Application Days, 3-5 March, kicks off this year’s European Satellite Navigation Competition (ESNC). Live demonstrations of cutting-edge satellite navigation applications using EGNOS and Galileo will be held at the event’s ‘Application Village’.
The event is hosted by the European Commission and is organised by the European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA) and the Application Centre for Satellite Navigation in Oberpfaffenhofen (AZO), the managing organisation for ESNC, which is also known as ‘Galileo Masters’.
The European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS), Europe’s first venture into satellite navigation, improves the accuracy of the open public service offered by the USA’s Global Positioning System (GPS). EDAS disseminates EGNOS data in real time without relying on the signals from the three EGNOS’ satellites. EDAS is the single point of access for the data collected and generated by the EGNOS infrastructure.
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