Navstar-2F satellite of the Global Positioning...

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All technology, if it’s truly powerful, can be put to malign purposes as well as good – and if it can’t it’s probably not the game-changer you thought it to be.

Evgeny Morozov has advanced the evil argument at length in his book The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet, so it’s not difficult to guess what he thinks of China using GPS to track 20m people in Beijing night and day.

The project is called Information Platform of Real-Time Citizen Movement according to the South China Morning Post, though some might prefer the pithier moniker of spying.

Chinese officials say they want it to monitor movements of people as a way of improving public travel and easing traffic jams. The initial reaction to that might be: “Yeah, right.” But they’re not the only ones tracking the tide of humankind.

In the US, Waze does just that for commuters, giving free turn-by-turn navigation information, while in the UK Portsmouth-based Path Intelligencetracks footfall in places like airports, shopping centres and exhibition centres to ensure they work to maximum efficiency.

Harnessing a big-data picture from mobile movements can show which areas are under-used, where things should be positioned for optimal benefit and even help the timetabling of cleaning operations. Path makes the point that the people it tracks remain anonymous, but even so suspicions linger about how the technology might be used.

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