Sunday, March 26, 2006

Another Weapon In The Stalker Arsenal

Normally, discussing competition in the field of technology is about as exciting for me as folding my laundry. This case, however, is a little different. The college networking site Facebook (which you know about unless you've been living with cavemen for the past two years) has been running banner ads at the bottom of each user's home page. One of the ads in rotation is a banner for the new Windows Live Local mapping service. This, like the Windows Live main page, appears to be Microsoft's answer to Google. WLL works in a manner similar to that of Google Maps, but it focuses more on its "bird's eye" functionality. If a location is supported, the resulting view is incredible, allowing for closer and more realistic-looking imaging than Google Maps. As an example, compare Google's version of New York City with the Microsoft version. A little more crisp, a slight angle for added depth...yes, Microsoft has the goods right now.

The implications for a student should be obvious. A newer form of bonding between people at college (especially large colleges) has been to sit at Google Maps and find the exact location of your house to show your friends. With the view provided in WLL, you can now pick out individual windows and even the front door, assuming your city's in the database. Morgantown, sadly, is not in the database at this time. Charleston isn't either, but other midsize cities allow close enough a view to allow you to see storefronts (assuming the stores existed when the photographs were taken). It's quite simply a great, semi-educational time killer as far as students are concerned, and also another way to put off doing homework, as I must confess to be doing right now.

Now here's where it gets creepy: Because it allows you to type in full addresses, it would theoretically be possible to find someone's house without their knowledge so long as a mailing address could be found. It doesn't bother me personally; my house would probably never show up in the database, and I'm generally not paranoid enough to feel threatened if it did. But what about the beleaguered ladies of Facebook colleges, who have dealt with so much harassment as to add the term "Stalkerbook" to the lexicon? I know that some of these women might want to hand a restraining order to any anonymous blogger that crosses their paths at this point, but I honestly am a little concerned. This is why privacy concerns have been such a big deal lately; simply put, the Internet is making it almost too easy to find any information you desire. A stalker barely has to try to find your house now if you're in the database and your address is sitting around somewhere in the Web. Protect yourselves, people.

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