Tuesday, April 2, 2013

CurbTXT and the question of sharing

We share private information about ourselves all of the time.

Sometimes this is not by choice. I recently discovered that anyone who checked the website of a particular county can read all about my traffic violation, the amount that I paid to go to traffic school, and the disposition of this case by the court. (Of course, this is a prime example of "If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear." If I had not run that red light, my name would not be in that database.)

Sometimes, however, we choose to share things. When we sign up for a service, we are often asked if we want to share all of our service activity with Facebook, Twitter, and other means. This allows us to know about breast pump rentals and everything else. (Braden is presumably eating big boy food these days.)

All of us, whether we are in the Bredehoft family, the Gray family, or the Scoble family, make conscious choices about what we will share and what we will not share. And even people who are reputed to share everything really don't share everything. For one, it would be awfully boring. For two, there are some things that people just won't share. (Even when Madonna was romping around with her clothes off all the time, she was not printing her 1040 tax forms for public consumption.)

So, San Francisco drivers, do you want people to text you when they see your car?

The company that provides this service, CurbTXT, explains its service as follows:

A lot of things can go wrong when parking your car in the city. We think instant, direct, and anonymous communication can alleviate a lot of the parking issues people have with their vehicles and the vehicles of others. Before CurbTXT, no one could reach you if your left your car’s lights on or you were accidentally blocking their driveway, unless they knew you and your car. Now with CurbTXT, neighbors are helping each other make parking in the city a little easier.

As B.L. Ochman explains, anyone can contact someone who is registered with the service by sending a text message that includes the person's license plate number. For example, you could send this text to the universal CurbTXT phone number of (415) 529-5775: "CA3214567 you’re blocking my driveway - pls move." If the owner of the car with California license plate 3214567 is a CurbTXT user, then CurbTXT would forward the message to the car owner's phone, and the car owner could then move.

The CurbTXT technology is neutral. The technology itself is not good or bad. It can be used, however, in good or bad ways.

CA3214567 you just ran a red light you stupid fool

As I have admitted, there is certainly the possibility that I could receive a text like that. However, since I am God's gift to women (whoops, let's be politically correct - "to women and men"), it is much more likely that I could receive a text that reads as follows:

CA3214567 you are incredibly hot - take me!

As it turns out, CurbTXT has thought of this problem - well, not this specific problem, but the problem of inappropriate texts.

If you believe you have received an inappropriate CurbTXT, simply text “#block” to block the user and flag the message. CurbTXT will investigate any users sending inappropriate messages and keep a record of it. As a community organization, CurbTXT will not tolerate abuse of the service, and we rely on users reporting abuse to keep the service functioning properly.

The community is not a completely closed community, since you only have to register to RECEIVE messages - anyone can send messages. However, any text messages that break the law could certainly be prosecuted in the same way that any abusive text message can be prosecuted.

Which brings us back to the question - do you see a net benefit from allowing people to contact you based upon your license plate number? If you do, contact CurbTXT via its website curbtxt.com or its Twitter account @CurbTXT.

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