Hi-tech versus Privacy

Hi-tech vs privacy

Picture: ORLANDO CHIODO

Picture: ORLANDO CHIODO

University of Wollongong senior lecturer Katina Michael researches the use of tracking technologies and their human impact. With the threat of terrorism prompting the increased use of technology to keep track of people, and talk of the reintroduction of a national ID card, KATINA MICHAEL, senior  lecturer at the University of Wollongong, researches these options with a view to their social impact.

I research emerging technologies targeted at mass market applications, and the social implications of these technologies on citizens and business. In 1996 I began researching smart cards and then in the following year expanded my interests to the wider automatic identification industry: bar code, magnetic-stripe card, biometrics, radio-frequency identification (RFID). In 2004, I further extended my research agenda to include location technologies such as global positioning systems (GPS), wireless local area networks, UHF, cellular triangulation, chip implants and geographic information  systems (GIS). 

My work explores the dynamics between technology and service providers,  customers, endusers (eg citizens) and government agencies in the process of technological innovation. I am particularly interested in the technological trajectory of the identification and location-based services (LBS) industry and use a historical method to analyse changes that have occurred over time. 

My predictive studies are based on the  current state of development and verifiable  cutting-edge research. My unit of analysis is multi-layered - the technology at the first  instance, then the application context, and finally the given product or process innovation.


Together with research students, I have developed the 3Cs and 3Ts classification of  location-based applications - Control, Care, Convenience and Tagging, Tracking, Tracing.
This approach lends itself well to usability contexts, used to analyse applications that are focused on identifying or locating objects, animals or people at varying levels of  location accuracy - from precision to proximity. 

More recently I have become interested in how emerging technologies impact social ethics and legislation. My work is aimed at influencing Australian government policy, and for that reason has broader applicability than just in the information technology sector alone.
Currently, the rekindling of the Australia Card debate, the controversial use of RFID and  Biometrics for ePassports, and the newly defined laws in telecommunications interception and anti-terrorism are important issues as they affect not only suspected terrorists and intercountry travellers but all citizens of Australia. 

Consider the 24x7 tracking of suspected terrorists or the obligatory adoption of card schemes mandated by the Government and enforced by law. The latter example appeals directly to the national security debate, in which I have been an active participant since completing my PhD. However, given the area of study, my research has as much applicability to national security as it does to the emergency management sector, as there are common approaches to aiding communication and collaboration using electronic and mobile business applications in either context. 

Perhaps my single-most passionate research area is looking at the development of the human-computer metaphor. I have been studying the implantation of chips into humans for a variety of applications, including for medical purposes. This topic brings together research from diverse fields including medical, robotics, automatic identification,  ubiquitous computing, technology trends, culture and ethics. 

Katina Michael is a senior lecturer in the School of Information Technology and Computer Science at the University of Wollongong.

Q&A

Will it save the world?

No. The best most of us can hope for is that our research plays at least a small part in the wider context of a larger research project which is considered useful to society at large. 

Years spent trying:

My first minor research project began in July 1996 and was titled Social Implications of Smart Cards: an Australian Case Study. So I guess that means I have been researching in the field for about 10 years. Are you getting anywhere? Yes. Research however is a lifelong endeavour. 

Best part of your research? 

Without a doubt it is mentoring younger scholars, collaborating with colleagues, ongoing education and helping break new ground. Have you had a true ‘‘Eureka! I’ve found it!’’ experience? Yes - founding the concepts of ‘‘electrophorus’’ and ‘‘homoelectricus’’ with DrM G Michael while collaborating on a paper. I have also had a great number of ‘‘you  beaut’’ moments, particularly while supervising my research students. 

Has it made you rich?

Not in dollar terms, but rich in experience and  perspective. What did you want to be when you were a kid? I never quite knew what I wanted  to be when I was growing up, although I liked studying English, writing poetry and being a part of theatrical productions all through primary and high school. I never set out to be an academic until after I left my previous workplace. It happened quite unexpectedly. 

Has your career followed a straight line?

I do not think I’ve had the normal academic career path, although I did a Bachelor’s degree followed by a PhD in close succession. When I finished my undergraduate studies, I had discounted further research as an option, until my husband encouraged me to work and study at the same time. It was tough but well worth it. I used my annual leave to hack away at my thesis. One of the toughest things I faced was maintaining  focus on the same research question after long periods away from the university campus but I  was passionate about my PhD topic and in the end that is what got me through the very late  nights and long haul. 

Advice for young researchers:

Persistence, hard work, integrity and passion for learning and sharing. Website: www.itacs.uow.edu.au/school/staff/katina/

Citation: Katina Michael, "Hi-Tech vs Privacy", Illawarra Mercury, October 31, 2006.

Nortel Networks: Assesses Customer Needs Quickly and Accurately with MapInfo

Katina Michael in 1999 while working at Nortel Networks in Wollongong as an engineer in the Network Systems Solutions group.

Katina Michael in 1999 while working at Nortel Networks in Wollongong as an engineer in the Network Systems Solutions group.

Nortel Networks specialist Network Systems & Solutions Group is not only helping the  company win business throughout Asia Pacific, it is delivering real benefits to customers
using MapInfo's suite of products. 

Nortel's Network Systems & Solutions Group's small 12-member team based in Australia, Singapore and China, uses MapInfo tools to support Nortel's new business bid responses throughout Asia and assist telecommunications carriers, alternate operators and service providers with strategic network planning, detailed network planning and implementation.

MapInfo's products help Nortel's Asia Pacific operation understand market segmentation, assess demand for communication services and identify the most suitable end-to-end solution for any given customer distribution be it in a central business district, suburban or rural area.

While MapInfo Professional is the main application used, Nortel also utilizes MapInfo products MapInfo MapBasic and GeoLoc (MapInfo Australia's geocoding software); MapInfo partner products including ExaMin's MapLinker and Northwood Geoscience's Vertical Mapper; and supporting market data such as census products including Australian Bureau of Statistics CData96 Australia and MapData Sciences CData96 New Zealand. 

MapInfo's products are used for numerous applications, including demographic analysis, market segmentation, coverage definition identifying and assessing service demand, business planning, target marketing, competitive analysis, traffic engineering, network optimization and roll out scenarios. 

MapInfo and other GIS tools and data help us to build customer relationships and to understand the customers requirements better, because we are actually seeing the world through their eyes, said Katina Michael, network and systems planner for Nortel's Network & Systems Solutions Group. We can respond better to their needs and help them to make better business decisions. It (MapInfo's solution) gives us the capability to do very powerful analysis by introducing a third dimension to our work, she said. It goes beyond numbers on a spreadsheet or static information in a database. By adding a new dimension with actual maps, you greatly boost the level of power for doing advanced analysis. You can't tell by looking at a spreadsheet what location would be best for a certain service, but you can really identify things on a map.

According to Michael, it was previously impossible to visualize an entire network, for example. Now we have the ability to look at that on a map and compare a centralized network architecture to a decentralized network architecture and that helps us make a better assessment. It gives you key information like distance and surface area that a spreadsheet or database can't show you, and that provides greater accuracy. Before it was a guesstimate but now our network responses are very precise. 

Nortel's customers benefit, because the MapInfo tools give them the ability to carry out thorough market analysis, Michael explained. 

We can take a top-down approach, looking at what they should be doing to maximize their business opportunities, she said. We can look at a map of Australia and do a national, very high-level market analysis or go down to suburb or street level or even a floor within a building.

Michael points to one of Australia's largest service providers to demonstrate how the group benefits customers. Following a Nortel study using MapInfo Professional and GeoLoc, the company changed its proposed fiber route for a metropolitan area.

We looked at businesses in the proposed coverage area by type and size, Michael explained. We told them they could change their proposed route to optimize it and pick up more customers. We believe we helped them boost their revenue base via the optimized route by looking at the factual information.

The Network Systems & Solutions Group selected MapInfo for its flexibility, portability and automation features. The planners in the group do consulting work throughout the Asian region, and they need the flexibility to use it on their desktop wherever they are on-site with the customer or overseas, she said.

The MapInfo tools also have a lot of support from data suppliers, which was crucial. If the currency of your data  does not match your state-of-the-art modeling capabilities, you're letting yourself and your customers down. It's also very easy to build applications, add on tools and automate manual tasks in MapInfo Professional.

With the team's input required for up to 100 bid responses and consultations a year, speed of turnaround is also critical, she added. Before, projects might have lasted one to two months each, but now we have to respond within weeks or even days. The clock is always ticking. You don't have time to scream for numbers, you need to be able to act quickly.

When you are working at Web-speed, she continued, you can't dispatch people to all  these different locations throughout Asia, but now everything that you could do if you were  physically there, you can do remotely using MapInfo tools and data. Before these GIS tools were available, people were using things like overhead transparencies on their monitors to trace maps. You would end up with the wrong scale simply because people had different screen sizes. Others used shoelaces to measure distances, which gave a very crude estimate.
We have come a long way in a short time and the team has integrated the GIS applications into their daily work.

Nortel's Network Systems & Solutions Group eventually aims to make the information it has collected available throughout the company using MapInfo MapXtreme, the MapInfo application built specifically for mapping on the Web. 

Over the years, we have been building a lot of telecommunications-specific layers, and, while our group is quite small, we interact with a lot of other groups from many other departments, Michael noted. We plan to use MapXtreme to support information sharing throughout Nortel Networks. It will allow everyone to share in the layers we have built and get greater value out of the large database of Asian/Australasian information we have collected.

Citation: MapInfo Staff, January 10, 2000, "Nortel Networks: Assesses Customer Needs Quickly and Accurately with MapInfo", MapInfo.