Pillockry and privacy
I left my phone on the bus yesterday.
Generally I’ve done pretty well at not losing phones or other tech gadgets compared to many of my contemporaries, but even as a once off* I still felt pretty bloody silly about it. Not LEAST because as someone who supposedly “knows what they’re doing where tech is concerned” I hadn’t set up and phone location or remote retrieval tools.
So I remembered reading about the Google Location Services metadata collection, within the scope of Senator Scott Ludlam of the Australian Green Party’s discussions surrounding metadata retention and its potential for abuse. As part of its ongoing mission to provide you with better information about your journey times and preferred routes, any smartphone with a google account connected to it and with Location Services active will ping back your position about every 40 seconds. You can therefore see your travels for the day by visiting http://maps.google.com/locationhistory – the info is protected within your google account, but it can be a little shocking to know that this is being collected. Ludlam particularly talked about how without proper legal protection citizens’ location data could potentially be used to enforce speeding tickets, or for people to be able to cross-reference with phone call logs and find out where you were when you called particular numbers. It’s all a bit “The Wire” in that sense.
So anyway, visiting the page I saw that my location for the day – or at least that of my phone – looked like this:
The graph at the bottom shows displacement from starting location, so you could see me get the bus to work, then the bus turned around & went back along the route, all the way to the end, around a triangle bit, then back again. So about 11am whoever had found my phone obviously got off the bus and then went and sat down.
Phoning the Lost Property office, they said that they were located in Bath and that lost phones usually didn’t get to them til the following day or so, when their agent goes around all the bus depots and collects the lost property. I said I’d noticed the phone had stopped just off Easton Road and she said “Oh that’ll be our Lawrence Hill depot most likely – if you can get there before 8pm you might be able to pick it up!”.
Meanwhile in a parallel action I’d tried subscribing to the well-known adage “If you want a response from a British company, give their customer service department a swerve and try getting to them via social media”- the theory being that customer services are inevitably bogged down my months of complaints, but social media is very much in the public eye, so they tend to have cheap or free labour keeping tabs on what people are saying and doing whatthey can to give responsive and reputation-salvaging help. Sometimes.
In this case I tweeted FirstBus that I’d left my phone on the bus but the lost property office didn’t open til 11, so what would they recommend. I had a response within 20 minutes asking if I stillhad my bus ticket (which I did – they tend to live in my pockets til I get home, mainly out of laziness).
It transpires that though a ticket is an antiquated, or in fact, outmoded piece of transactional flotsam in this case it also contained some key information for reuniting me with my lost phone. Rather than “I got on the number 7 at about 8:15?”, I was able to use the ticket data:
I tweeted back that I had the ticket and sent over the relevant bits of info, excited that technology had prevailed and I’d stumbled on a rare example of a functioning methodology.
As it happened, after I sent the tweet off with my data I never heard anything back from First Bus for the rest of the afternoon. So my “impressed customer” rating swung briefly from somewhere near zero (default state for any bus company in Bristol, I’m afraid to say), up to Very Impressed Indeed, and then back to zero again when I realised that their responsiveness was an unexpected token outlier rather than an indicator of capability and customer focus.
I basically bowled in to the depot 10 minutes before it closed and said “I left a phone on the bus this morning”. The guy asked if I could describe it, so I gave a fairly generic description, then he came out with my phone & handed it over – no details taken, or asking to see my ticket, or anything.
So, I’m very happy to be reunited with my phone. I remain underwhelmed by First Bus – for a different reason than usual. I feel like I’ve learned a few things, and I don’t know whether I’ll disable Location Services or not. Supposing it hadn’t been the driver that found it, but someone else picking it up and taking it off into the wild yonder – would I have felt compelled to try to track them down before my battery ran out, or just consign it to the dustbin of history and enter into a probably fruitless insurance claim? Who knows…
I still feel like a bit of a git for leaving my phone on the bus though. And First Bus can still fuck off.
* OK, so there was that one time in a cab in Frankfurt about 8 years ago.