By Gregory Natran
Consider the daily commute
If your drive to work is similar to that of many people, you might want to listen to music to calm your nerves or alleviate the tediousness of your journey. Not that long ago, you would select a song from the eight to ten tracks found on an audio CD. This you would do using a button on the centre console or maybe the steering wheel. A relatively simple process. Today’s infotainment systems are considerably more technically advanced. My car, for example, is equipped with three USB ports and an SD card slot. It can connect wirelessly to every media file on ten Bluetooth-enabled mobile devices. It can even still play CDs (if equipped with the now optional CD player). In short, the driver has access to thousands of music and media files from a personal library or those of other vehicle occupants – a boon to those who daily suffer a dreary and tiresome commute, or who want the soundtrack of their drive to be one of variety in accord with personal or passenger preference.
Infotainment use of data
But how to access the songs we wish to hear? Most infotainment systems can play one or more files from a massive media library on command: a specific song, all songs by a specified artist, all songs on a specified album, all songs by a specific composer, all songs of a specific genre, all files of a specific media type, etc. However, it would take a bewildering array of buttons to accomplish the simple task of selecting a particular media file. Touchscreen interfaces can help, but they often require most or all of the driver’s attention, substantially increasing the risk of a serious accident occurring due to driver distraction. Voicerecognition systems may mitigate some of the risk of distracted driving, but they—like the touchscreen interface—are only as good as the meta-information available. Song name, artist, album name, composer, genre, and media type are all meta-information associated with the media files the system can play. If the thousands of music files available to the car’s infotainment system lack this meta-information, if the meta-information values are inconsistent, or the vehicle’s manufacturer has limited the types of meta-information the system can use, utility of the system is greatly reduced. Consequently, driver frustration, irritation, and distraction levels increase and the expected benefits of innovative in-car entertainment technologies go largely unrealised. In this situation, meta-information is more than just “information about information.” It is a factor in road safety and the pleasure we experience from our music collections when operating a vehicle. Let’s assume your music library has lots of meta-information and you can enjoy your favourite songs on the drive to work and focus on the drive itself.
EDRs, Safety, and Data
You may not know it, but your vehicle is almost certainly collecting information about your drive to work and other locations. Most vehicles on the road today are outfitted with EDRs (event data recorders) that are similar to the “black boxes” installed on aircraft. These devices collect meta-information about your drive: vehicle speed, breaking and ABS activation, stability control engagement, throttle position, engine speed, air-bag deployment, etc. Some EDRs can also collect information from inside the car, like seatbelt use and number and position of occupants. First introduced by General Motors as a means of assessing air-bag performance, EDRs and the data they collect have become essential contributors to automotive safety. In the event of a crash (hopefully not the result of someone distracted by the vehicle’s infotainment system), the EDR saves information that provides an accurate description of what was happening just before, during, and immediately following an accident. Using EDR and other information, engineers can scrutinize the performance of the vehicle’s systems and safety equipment in various real-world—rather than laboratory—conditions. In the process, engineers can identify flaws inherent in existing designs (as opposed to those unique to a particular vehicle) that require attention. Often a recall will be issued to fix the problems and improve vehicle safety by ensuring new designs and innovations do not suffer from the same problems. The information captured by the EDR is increasingly of interest to persons and organizations other than engineers and car manufacturers. In addition to helping engineers improve automotive safety, law enforcement, insurers, and lawyers regard EDR data as valuable for investigative, legal, and commercial purposes. In Canada, EDR data is only available to police and insurance companies with the vehicle owner’s consent or a court order. What the information reveals, particularly when it contradicts human statements, can have significant consequences for drivers involved in serious collisions. Of course, it may be that the EDR data backs up your claims to be a safe, conscientious driver rather than a menace behind the wheel. Your insurance company would probably like to know this. They might even offer you reduced rates for car insurance if you consent to the collection of your personal EDR data (or data collected through a similar device that is installed in the vehicle). Obviously, people who value their privacy over commercial gain cannot benefit from this use of personal information – and more cynical observers wonder if they won’t be penalized in the future for refusing to present the meta-information their cars generate so the insurance company can set an insurance rate. Again, in these situations, meta-information is more than just “information about information.” It is a factor in the safety of the vehicles we drive and, quite possibly, protecting the public from dangerous drivers while rewarding those with impeccable driving records.Sleepless movie streaming
Relevance to Information Managers?
Why does this matter? My implicit suggestion that meta-information is not only “information about information” (the conventional definition of metadata), but also information about information-intensive processes and the objects that assume roles in those processes may raise questions among IM professionals. But it is harder to question the increasing significance of meta-information in our lives:
- meta-information is as valuable and useful as the information assets we produce and consume (e.g., the pictures we take, the documents we write, the songs we purchase, the messages we send); • meta-information is encapsulating and acquiring significant influence in many aspects of our day-to-day routines; it is no longer confined to the world of library catalogues and business information systems; • meta-information is being collected, analysed, and used right now, often without the informed consent or awareness of the owner
IM professionals need to weigh in on the dialogue
Knowing this, management of meta-information is worth consideration for all of us as participants in an information-based economy and citizens of an information-driven society:
- How do we establish ownership of meta-information? Courts have established that EDR data belongs to the vehicle owner, but many grey areas exist. • How do we ensure meta-information is fully and judiciously incorporated into the privacy, collection, and usage policies and regulations that govern more conventional information assets? • How do we incorporate easy to understand and implement consent-granting mechanisms into meta-information systems? Such systems may lack use interfaces for such purposes. • How do we build opt-out mechanisms into meta-information systems? There is no way, for example, to disable the EDR on your car. • Are businesses and governments obligated to provide the public with easy access to a consolidated view of both the information and meta-information they hold about a given person? While we have processes for accessing the content of personal data banks, there are fewer instances of processes to verify the source, integrity, proper life-cycle management, access rights, and use of this information (all of which exist as meta-information in well-designed information systems).
Perhaps most important: How do we build public awareness of meta-information, which is often unseen and unfamiliar, and its growing influence in our lives? Without better awareness, the public is open to unknowingly relinquishing information rights and fraudulent use of information. As information professionals, we can help form answers to these questions to ensure a considered and managed approach to using information and meta-information for maximum benefit to everyone.