Trial system gives visitors access to local information but raises privacy concerns Tourists visiting Hong Kong are taking part in a large-scale test of mobile location-based services. The service tracks visitors as they travel around Hong Kong, giving them access to local information but also collecting data for researchers and marketers. Mobily Yours Hong Kong (myHK) bundles mobile voice service with travel information. Unlike other mobile travel information services, information is provided based on the user's current location. With a SIM card inserted in the user's mobile phone, the system can track his or her location within 20 metres, and provide information accordingly. The trial period began on December 4 and will end on Saturday, by which time 2,000 SIM cards, each worth $100, will have been distributed free of charge through various channels, including the China Travel Service, Ocean Park, Harbour City and the Excelsior Hotel, with the aim of targeting different groups of tourists. Using the system, a tourist in Wan Chai, for example, could request information about nearby restaurants or fashion outlets and would not even need to know his location. Francis Wong Yick-man, managing director of Trident Telecom, who is also the project manager of the programme, said: 'This is particularly useful to tourists who do not know their way around Hong Kong.' The system provides a rich database for market research. Bob McKercher, associate head of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said: 'This system allows the behaviour of tourists to be studied in detail. For example, what they do on the first day of a three-day visit, what do independent Chinese visitors do in the territory?' One obvious objection to the system is that it invades privacy. Dr McKercher said that, during the trial stage, the users of myHK had to complete a questionnaire allowing their data to be studied. He was not certain what the arrangement would be when the system was launched commercially. He said the new service was orientated towards consumers. They were able to request the information they wanted when and where they wanted it. The project, which was partially funded by the Innovation and Technology Commission, was conceived a year ago. The development work was given to Trident Telecom and the Applied Science and Technology Research Institute, which spent seven months building myHK. The system is Java-based and runs on Sun Unix servers. It operates on the GPRS platform and uses location-based services for positioning. Astri vice-president Shen-Chang Chao said: 'It is expected that myHK will begin a pilot run in the first quarter of 2004 and the official launch will be in the middle of next year if everything goes well.' Trident Telecom is a mobile virtual network operator, leasing other operators' networks to provide services. It focuses on niche markets such as prepaid phone cards, wholesale services and event-based mobile services. Trident's mobile network provider is Sunday Communications. Trident has invested in the project, but the bulk of its investment will come in the next phase when MMS and motion video functions will be added. 'Only a third of the work has been done so far,' said Mr Wong.