Placeme isn’t what we’d consider a brand new app. Launched last December the app emerged quietly onto Google Play, only recently gaining attention from the press with an earlier review from Forbes, and a 32-minute video interview from the famed Robert Scoble. And this is where the controversy gets going. Placeme’s app is a personal tracking tool that automatically logs all sorts of data based on your location. No more checking-in or other mandatory actions that require you to whip out your phone.  At the end of the day you’ll get a complete summary of where you’ve been and when you were there, all viewable on a map and awaiting any notes you’d like to add for context. It’s very cool, but raises some privacy concerns.

Developed by Alohar Mobile, Placeme founder Sam Liang has a vision of the future that benefits greatly from such detailed personal data, sending alerts before you’ve even thought to check on things like traffic on the way home from work, nearby gas stations with lower prices and calling 911 when you’ve been in an accident. Placeme uses every possible sensor on your phone, combining this incoming data to generate a picture of where you are and what you’re doing. Your GPS and accelerometer are useful sensors for ambient apps such as Placeme, but putting that data to good use is another story.

Personal data, privacy and empowerment

The privacy debate has already been raised around Placeme’s app, which brings to the forefront an ongoing discussion of what apps should have access to our personal data and how businesses should be able to use it. Social media has ushered in a new era of market research, providing ready data sets contextualized with historic consumer behavior. Add a location-aware smartphone to the mix and you’ve got a highly personalized set of data that can be used in the collective, or for individual recommendations. Placeme is a solid reminder of where data is headed in the future, and its very presence is also a reminder of where data’s already been in the past. Businesses have been built around consumer data for years, leading up to the very possibility of an app like Placeme. Google itself is looking to leverage ambient data, detected through smartphone sensors, to offer better ads, thanks to its recent patent application. But there’s still a long way for personal data to go, and they’ll have to tread lightly.

Creating value around our personal data will be key to Placeme’s success, along with third party app integration, deep device integration for its own native app, and a string of services that empower the end user, not scare them. Liang seems well aware of this, as he hopes to integrate Placeme data with shopping, restaurant and health apps. As a former member of the Google Location Server team, which provides data to Google mobile apps, and the guy that helped create that little blue dot you see when you turn on your maps on your iPhone or Android smartphone, Liang has a long history with location data. And with angel investor David Cheriton, the guy who wrote the first check to the Google founders in 1998, Liang could very well be the one to revolutionize personal data for pragmatic use.