Apple Co-Founder Woz Misses Mark with GPS Tech

Opinion: With his new company, Wheels of Zeus, "the other Steve" Wozniak claims to provide location-based encryption. But it's hard to immediately think of an application for which the Woz GPS-based security really makes sense.

I hate to seem dense or out of the loop, but for the life of me I cant think of many really useful applications for the located-based encryption technology being touted by Steve Wozniaks company.

It does, however, help me understand why the Apple co-founder is known as "the other Steve," the one who had his day in the sun and left.

While Steve Jobs, generally considered the less charming (unless he really wants to be) of the two Apple boy geniuses, has bounced from success (Macintosh) to success (Pixar) to success (iPod), Wozniak gets recent credit for things such as concerts and TV remote control devices. His new company grew out of—I swear—a desire to create a better invisible dog fence.

Wheels of Zeus—a silly name for a company except that the initials, Woz, spell Wozniaks nickname—reminds me of another business founded by Apple exes. That was General Magic, and I wont regale you with that tragic story except to say that the companys MagicCap operating system and TeleScript communications scripting language were the failed creations of a company with way more ego than sense. And a silly name it could never really live up to.

Can Woz—I mean Wheels of Zeus—be different? From an ego perspective, the companys Web site looks like the work of a cult of Woz admirers, or perhaps the man himself. It makes the usual "were going to change the world" claims that follow former Apple people around. The companys slogan seems to be "helping everyday people find everyday things," a laudable goal to be sure, but just try making money from it.

If there are other smart people working to develop this technology, as there must be, none is mentioned on the Woz site. In fact, Woz seems to be the only Woz employee mentioned at all.

What the site says about the companys creation is that Woz (the man) wanted to use GPS (Global Positioning System) to somehow keep his dogs around his house or find them when they got away. Failing with the dog idea, he eventually decided to keep track of people and things. I am betting hell eventually circle back for the canines of the world as well.

Still, I dont imagine I will ever find myself logging onto WozNet (does this guy have an ego or what?) to learn the precise GPS location of my lost dog or anything else.

But back to the Woz invention in question, location-based encryption, apparently a component of future Woz devices. The description is actually a bit misleading, since it sounds like the encryption is based on location. What were really talking about, as best I can tell, is location-based decryption. That is, information can only be accessed if the Woz device learns from a GPS fix that the information is in an acceptable physical location.

For example, someone steals your notebook and takes it to another state. Because the computer wasnt authorized to access that data in your new location, it is unable to do so. Another example given is that of machines being removed from a building and therefore becoming inaccessible because they were in the "wrong" location.

I can think of lots of non-GPS ways to accomplish this sort of physical perimeter security for data. But using GPS seems to be problematic since the satellite signals dont do a good job in making their way inside offices. There are solutions for that, but they all seem to just layer complexity upon complexity.

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Now, I am sure there are some, but its hard to immediately think of an application for which the Woz GPS-based security really makes sense. Does it mean that an unauthorized user could access data provided they were in the proper location? The answer must be no, since the user would still be unknown to the system.

But are there times when an authorized user should be locked-out because they are in the wrong location? I suppose there are, like when an employee storms out of a building with a computer just before (or after) being fired. And theres the odd industrial espionage case to be considered.

But there are other, better ways to deal with those eventualities, including rights management systems that require network authentication before a document can be opened.

My guess is were better off knowing that sensitive information is available only to those presently authorized to use it, rather than those who might have once been authorized and happen to now be in the proper location.

I suppose you can stack the two security methods together, which could make sense in a belt-and-suspenders way but seems like overkill for most companies security needs.

GPS is wonderful technology, the applications of which we have barely scratched the surface of. Many companies will ride the GPS wave to success, but from what Ive seen, I dont think the Wheels of Zeus will be among them. But with a company named Woz, at least well know whos responsible.

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