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They Know Where You Are

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By Rob Pegoraro
Thursday, July 31, 2008

Your computer knows what you did last weekend -- but that's okay because most of your other gadgets do, too. Your browser remembers your Web reading list, your cellphone saved your calls, and your MP3 player can recite the songs you heard.

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And most of us seem content to have all this sentient machinery memorizing our daily routines, so long as all the data stay with us. A little surveillance of ourselves can be fine if we, and nobody else, get to see the results.

Your digital camera may be the next gadget to upgrade its self-awareness. It already records when you take photos, and now it can inform you where you shot them as well. You won't have to remember where you photographed each vacation shot; your photos will tell you.

This feat comes courtesy of a $129.99 device called the Eye-Fi Explore. It slips into a camera's SD card slot like any other memory unit, but this two-gigabyte card includes a WiFi receiver that connects to a database of wireless networks to determine the location of your pictures.

The Eye-Fi Explore doesn't do this everywhere and doesn't match the accuracy of a Global Positioning System receiver, but it's the simplest way to "geotag" your pictures.

The Explore, like two cheaper cards from Eye-Fi, of Mountain View, Calif., can also upload photos on the go. As long as it can log in to a WiFi network you've told it to remember (or if it grabs an open, unsecured hot spot), it can transfer your shots to a Mac or Windows computer, or any of more than 20 photo-sharing sites, moments after you've taken them.

Log on using the company's software, and you'll see your pictures alongside a Google Maps view of each shot.

Testing an Explore card in the District and on a trip to New York showed how this fusion of hardware, software and Web services can work -- or at least fail in a fascinating manner.

Photos taken in my house, on my walk to the Metro and between my subway stop and the office all showed up within feet of the correct locations, and Eye-Fi placed a shot from a train platform at Union Station a block or two away.

It was almost spooky to see my path plotted on the map like this.

The Explore also quickly uploaded these shots over my home and office wireless networks, though the transfers drained much of the camera's batteries and sometimes halted when the camera shut off on its own. In separate trials, the card deposited pictures into a Mac's iPhoto library, a Windows Vista PC's pictures folder, and Flickr and Photoshop Express accounts.

This card, however, did nothing with pictures from the train ride to New York, ignoring not only those snapped in rural stretches of Maryland but a few from just outside Philadelphia; Newark; and Trenton, N.J.


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