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Tracking everything, Placeme is the smartphone assistant of the future

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Placeme for iOS(s aapl) and Android(s goog) may be both the scariest and amazingly futuristic smartphone app I’ve seen yet. The free software uses every sensor in your handset to track your activities, location and environment. There’s no checking in or other action you need to take; Placeme, built by Alohar Mobile, simply records everything in the background. And that creates the fullest set of personalized data I can think of: Placeme is a complete personal tracking solution.

Robert Scoble recently posted this 32-minute video with Alohar Mobile’s Placeme’s founder, Sam Liang, to get a complete description of the app. I recommend watching the entire conversation, but if you skip to the 2:40 mark, you’ll see Liang show you where he’s been and what he’s done for the past day, as captured automatically by Placeme.

Obviously, the scary part is that the app essentially learns everything about you: Where you shop, your route to work, who you visit, etc. Liang says the data isn’t shared or broadcast and that it’s encrypted. Without question, this may be the most pervasive type of mobile software to date. But I’m inclined to agree with Scoble when he says this is the future. Whether we like it or not, the world is fundamentally changing due to the Internet and our ability to share information seamlessly.

If you can get past this change there’s the potential for a world of useful information. Liang mentions that the app could check your route home from work in advance to check for traffic. Or perhaps it can alert you that another gas station nearby has cheaper gas than the station you just pulled into. When the phone has this type of history, it can truly be a smart personal assistant.

Will people be willing to give up privacy for this type of help? Over time, I think so; especially with the younger generation that is growing up with smartphones, tablets and location-based apps. Like Scoble, I’m a sucker for anything that brings the future closer to me today, so I’ve installed Placeme for now to see exactly what my phone can learn about me. After all, the future is inevitable.

29 Responses to “Tracking everything, Placeme is the smartphone assistant of the future”

  1. Armen Merikyan

    Sorry to say this, but this app is stupid, I developed a much better app in 2 weeks, It’s called Geo Behavior. working on another version of the app, which applies machine learning algorithms to predict you future location.

    • ozyman

      “Stupid”?? Are you like six years old? Or socially challenged on the autistic spectrum?

      And how are your better apps doing compared to this stupid app?

  2. Phil Hendrix

    Putting Users in Control of their Data
    By capturing data produced by mobile users and their devices, Alohar’s platform represents an important new capability. These “digital signals” ( will enable a wide range of applications and innovative new services. When considering the implications, benefits, and risks, it’s helpful to distinguish between the capture and uses of the data. Led by Doc Searls and ProjectVRM at Harvard, Shane Green at Personal and others, there are significant efforts underway to empower users and put them in control of their data.

    Here are a few links:
    – Doc Searls @dsearls on HBR blog – “You and I are the products being sold to advertisers…”
    – ProjectVRM at Harvard – key principle: “Customers must have control of data they generate and gather… and must be able to share data selectively and voluntarily.”
    – Personal – “a technology platform, business model and philosophy that puts people in control of their data.” See @shanegreen perspectives @personal
    – Finally, we discuss the potential uses of these data for commercial, but (potentially) mutually beneficial purposes in several recent reports (see and

    Dr. Phil Hendrix, immr and GigaOm Pro analyst

  3. heretiq

    “After all, the future is inevitable.”

    Perhaps so; but neither this particular future, nor any other possible future, is pre-determined. “The future” is instead the result of our actions or lack of action. We get to decide. We will have a collectively better “future” if we all exercise our own judgment and actions to influence the outcome we prefer vs. passively accepting the options presented to us based on the false belief that *it* is inevitable.

  4. peter78

    I watched part of the video and didn’t hear anything about this: Power. That would be my first concern. Typically, the iPhone will turn instruments on and off in order to save power. If all the instruments are running all the time, power would be severely affected.

  5. Hi Kevin, I’d be interested to hear how you do with battery life, both on iOS and Android. I notice the description in the app store has the following line

    “Placeme uses GPS data. Wile we do our best to conserve battery, continued use of GPS running in the background can dramatically decrease battery life.”

    Highlight, another app that uses GPS and, to be useful, you need to have running in the background, has struggled with battery life complaints but seems to do a fair job of being efficient.

    It’d be interesting to learn what the optimal polling time should be for these location-based services to balance utility with minimizing the costly start-up and shutdown events of the GPS.

    • Sam Liang

      We don’t use a fixed polling time. We change the polling time depending on the user’s current mode: walking, driving, stationary. We’ve filed some important patents on these technologies. Battery life optimization is one critical component of our technologies.

  6. Derek Kerton

    Other than battery impact, I like this kind of application. The smartphone is sucking the life out of all kinds of tangential product sectors: cameras, game devices, PCs, GPS, portable media players. But that’s just the start. Put enough sensors, processor power, connectivity, and memory into one hero device, and it becomes a platform that fills roles we never expected.

    Pedometers, traffic sensors, beacons, in car entertainment systems, SLR cameras (using software and processor to make up for lens quality), altimeters, air quality sensors, health devices…the list of future functions and features is endless.

    Placeme has a vision to simply use all those sensors and record the data as a platform for some future useful applications. Get past power consumption issues, and I love it.

    And smartphone bundled sensors just keep getting better. Look at today’s news from Broadcom:


    • Sam Liang

      We created a series dynamic sampling algorithms to reduce battery usage. It does use a little more battery than normal, however, most of the time, it allows you to use your phone normally for one full day without any problem (as long as you don’t watch Youtube video for 3 hours on your phone).

  7. Sam, Great app and concept! Would you consider adding a secure login screen to the app? Given the nature of the data, it seems one additional layer of security would be prudent.

  8. Will Lam

    This is freakishly good. I was hoping something like this would be built that would track ALL of my whereabouts, but also keep my data private. Prior to using this, I was using MyTracks, but it seemed like a half-baked idea that wasn’t going to go anywhere. Hopefully there will be a business model that makes sense because this is something I’d pay for to log my location data, rather than the cumbersome “checking-in” model popularized by Foursquare. However, would be cool to be able to share certain days or timeblocks in terms of your whereabouts.

  9. Sam Liang

    Thanks Kevin for the article.
    Could you make one minor correction: our company name is Alohar Mobile. Placeme is one app made by us. We are building a SDK for iPhone and Android, so that other developers can build persistent apps like smart personal assistant, mobile health/medical app, mobile games, etc. Thanks.

    • Kevin D

      Sam- you’ll know if I’m driving by my speed etc. Will that data be viewable by the user like the places are? Ie, the way Google My Tracks does, recording speed data etc X metres or feet, if the user wants?

    • Sorry about the inadvertent mistake, Sam. Just corrected the article to reflect your company’s name. BTW: I installed the app yesterday afternoon so I’m surprised you didn’t ask how my dinner at Olive Garden was last night – kidding! ;)

      • Sam Liang

        Thanks Kevin! I love Olive Garden!
        Thanks to you and Robert Scoble, our server is inundated with flood of new users. Sorry for any server delay yesterday and earlier today. We are scrambling to add more server capacity to keep the service running. It should be back to normal now.
        Follow @alohar on Twitter:!/alohar

  10. Good stuff. Glad to hear that this is finally here for Android and iOS devices. Been playing with similar (but not as far collecting) software on my Nokias for a while now and its a mixed bag. I like what’s possible when its able to present the device to me in a manner that makes it ready to use w/o much else than turning the screen on out of standby. I don’t like the idea that it *could* be shared or compromised.

    Now, this is more journal than anything else (anyone remember the journal feature of MS Outlook; was actually not a bad thing). Until I can see what’s in the video, I’m not sure that it changes the state of the device – which is where that data is most helpful to the user. After that point, the future does open up – the idea of an application shell, or even a UI, begins to fall away and what you do rises to the surface.

  11. fieldforceapp

    Welcome Placeme to a future we’ve been living in a while with our enterprise focused LBS app. While we agree mobile device sensor data harvesting is indeed the future, the question is how can you add value to the user? We think we’re on to something by combining Checkins with CRM. Looking forward to seeing what innovations Placeme brings.

  12. Jonathan Marks

    scary as hell if it were on a personal cellphone. But could be rather useful for investigative journalists working in difficult locations. The last day of data could be sent to a trusted friend by pressing a panic button (kidnapped/arrested). Or emergency services tracking what they did during a natural disaster. lessons learned when rebuilding …

    • Ronen Mendezitsky

      “if it were on a personal cellphone” ? It is on every cell phone. everything that was mentioned about the app is possible using different applications which come with your phone: GPS, Compass, Accelerometer, etc… The only difference here is that it’s all shown in one place.