starting with the upcoming iPhone OS 3.0, the iPhone will learn a number of new tricks, most of them software-based. one interesting area to watch are the micropayments which are supported by the new OS; it will be interesting to see how that affects apps and the delivery of mobile services in general.
less visible, but more importantly, iPhone OS also means that starting next week, 40 million iPhones (this number includes the iPod Touch sales as well) will become traceable on the web. the new mobile safari will support the location API currently under development by the W3C. this might seem like a minor update, but it actually means that web sites are now able to locate and track users with GPS precision (if they agree to it).
user tracking on the web already is more widespread and concentrated than most people think, but location tracking adds a new quality to this picture. it also adds a lot of value, because browser-based location information allows to serve location-sensitive ads, which can be much more specific and targeted than the usual behavioral advertising strategies allow. so before you click on
Allow when iPhone 3.0 asks you whether you want to allow mobile safari access to your location, think about the fact that this means you are essentially donating your location to behavioral profiling including your location trail.
the underlying design flaw is that the API as it is now allows 3rd party scripts unrestricted access to the location info. this is introduces the same problems that exist around 3rd party cookies, but there is no browser setting that allows you to control this. maybe browsers will have a preference for this at some point in time, if there is user demand for this kind of privacy setting, but as it is now, there is no such differentiation.
close to 90% of all major sites use trackers (here is a good WWW2009 paper about this), and it will be interesting to see how long it takes until these trackers start to also track location. my guess would be: not very long. and as soon as urchin.js/ga.js, probably the most-executed script(s) on the web, become location-enabled, location tracking will become a widespread thing on the web. location mining will become a fascinating and rich field, and it probably only is a matter of time until some agencies figures out that they would be interested to get access to these data sets so that they can figure out who is repeatedly hanging out in suspicious places...