Can Lokki take privacy-oriented location services open source?


It seems to me that “open” powers much of what we do online. In fact, I’m surprised marketers aren’t championing the term as more of a buzzword. I recently read an article penned by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (widely recognized as the inventor of the World Wide Web) discussing 8 different ways the word “open” relates to digital culture. After reading it, I thought “open” clearly captures many reasons I find the Internet such an appealing place to be. But then I thought about the other side of the coin – is such openness the antithesis of privacy? Sir Berners-Lee didn’t discuss this issue in detail, but I inferred from the article that this is and will continue to be a challenge. How can you be “open” online without losing control over your privacy?

Lokki, F-Secure’s ramped-down location service, provides an interesting example of how these concerns shape and are shaped by technology. F-Secure recently released Lokki’s source code to the open source community. The code is now available on Github, and has already been picked up for use in academic projects by students from the University of Helsinki, Stanford University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and MIT.

Harri Kiljander, F-Secure’s Director of Consumer Security, was integral in the development of Lokki. I sat down with him to get some of his thoughts on Lokki and how its unique blend of privacy and utility can inform future open source projects. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

Can you explain what makes Lokki different from other location services?

We designed Lokki to be both family-friendly and privacy-sensitive. Some of these location services are more like spying tools than sharing platforms. But we really focused on balancing people’s need for privacy with being able to share where you are with people in your social network. You saw this in some of Lokki’s features, like being able to quickly toggle whether you’re visible to your family and friends. But Lokki was a privacy-by-design location service, and I think this made it quite unique.

So why is privacy important for an app that people want to use to share locations?

Well we got some really interesting feedback about it. It’s not that the two ideas contradict each other – it’s just that people want them to be balanced and fit their needs. For example, families liked Lokki because it let them share locations with one another, but they could shut off the share location feature when they wanted some privacy. So parents liked it because it let them keep tabs on their kids while respecting their privacy. And kids liked it because they could share locations with their friends. But the same parents would get frustrated when kids wanted to hide their location. Parents wanted a way to override those privacy features, which wasn’t something we built into Lokki. So there’s demand for both privacy and sharing, and a lot of applications we see today are struggling to offer people the right balance.

So Lokki has been discontinued by F-Secure, but the source code has been given to the open source community. What do you expect them to do with Lokki?

Well it’ll be interesting to see what ideas come from it. We kept families in mind when we made Lokki, so we thought about developing features that they want. Something like a start-up will be free to use the same technology for a completely different purpose. Making it more communication oriented seems like a good idea. Lokki tested well with young adults even though it was oriented towards families, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like a Lokki-Tinder app in the future. There’s also room to stick with Lokki’s family focus and add more features, such as location history. There’s room for more innovation.

A lot of what you’re mentioning seems to lean towards making Lokki more about sharing. Do you think it will inform privacy-oriented projects as well?

I sure hope so! Most of what I just mentioned has to do with how start-ups or entrepreneurs can use Lokki to build new products. But the open source community cares about privacy. Lokki had well-developed code, so at the very least it’ll let people see how privacy-by-design apps actually look. Even when they’re balanced with location or other data sharing features.

You can check out this blog post (as well as this one) to read more about what Harri has to say about Lokki. Tech savvy readers can also check out Lokki’s source code on Github to learn what makes privacy-by-design location services tick.

[Image by zen Sutherland | Flickr ]


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