Color: Why You Should Be Scared

March 25th, 2011 by John Oliver+

The social world was buzzing yesterday following the launch of a brand new, mobile-based, photo-sharing app called Color. Many of the most respected technology pundits and bloggers around are raving about the potential for Color to change the way people interact with their surroundings. The excitement surrounding the potential for Color can be summed up in a single number: $41,000,000. That is how much venture capital the developers raised before the product even went live.

In its current state, Color allows anyone within 150ft (NOTE: Color has already announced they will be widening this range in many places) to see photos taken by anyone else, at anytime, in that particular area. So, for example, if I visited your community center and snapped photo after photo while walking through the halls, you (or anyone else) would be able to see ALL of those photos any time you’re within 150ft of the community center. As of this writing, there are no privacy settings to speak of built in to Color. Every photo taken is 100% available to the public.

Product Demo for Color

The Obvious Dangers of Color

A number of red flags have been raised in the short amount of time I’ve had to get acclimated to Color. Here are some of the big ones that come to mind right away.

No Sign-Up or Age Verification Required

Many techno-types are raving about the openness of Color. Essentially, you download the app to your smartphone (currently available in the App Store and Android Marketplace), launch it, and start taking photos. There is no requirement to connect the service with Facebook, Twitter, or even an email address.

While this “works-right-out-of-the-box” functionality can be attractive to some users, it also offers no form of age verification or user tracking that a parent may be hoping for.

Everything is Public… Immediately

As soon as Color is installed the user is encouraged to start snapping photos. Unfortunately, it is not clear to the user how these photos will be used. Color for AndroidThe moment a photo is taken it is published to the service. Anyone else using Color in your proximity will be able to see the photo right away.

With growing concerns over the amount of sexting taking place amongst adolescents and teenagers, parents, schools, and youth-focused organizations should be worried about the likelihood of a child (or a sexual predator in the area) taking lude photos of themselves and broadcasting them for all to see.

It is possible to delete photos once they are uploaded, but this feature is neither obvious to the user, nor is it enough to prevent a viewer from taking a screenshot and keeping the photo permanently.

Know Who is There, and Who Isn’t There

With the emphasis on location, Color provides real-time information about who is, or is not, at a current location. If enough photos are taken, someone would be able to identify when a building is full of people or completely empty.

The Bigger, Broader, and Scarier Dangers of Color

The ultimate goal of Color is to build a library of images from every location on the planet. This scares me… and I’ll tell you why.

Unfettered Access to the Layout of a Building

Schools, summer camps, and youth organizations are places were children can feel safe behind closed doors. A big reason these places are so safe is because the general public has no intimate knowledge of the internal structure or workings of the building. A sexual predator, an angry parent with no custody rights, or somebody else with ill intentions would immediately look out of place while attempting to navigate the building or property.

With Color, however, it would theoretically be possible to piece together a complete layout of the structure with doing nothing more than getting within close proximity and looking at a smartphone. For illustrative purposes let’s picture a summer camp; and at this particular camp, campers and counselors are allowed to use their smartphones to document the summer (I know… I know… this is only an example). After dozens (if not hundreds) of campers take photo after photo all summer long, Color will have pieced together enough information to paint a pretty clear picture of the entire camp. With minimal investigative skills, someone could know the most easily accessible and most secure locations of entry and exit to every building on the grounds – sleeping quarters, bathrooms, dining halls, etc.

People nearby would also have information about what an authority figure looks like in the organization. Do staff members wear descriptive t-shirts? Do they have badges? Name tags? With Color, a stranger on the street could see photos of these details and take steps to go undetected through the facility.

The very same could be said for schools, daycares, community organizations like YMCAs or Boys and Girls Clubs, office buildings, doctors offices and more.

Is Color the scariest app ever?

What do you think? Is Color the next big thing… or the most blatant invasion of privacy ever? What can organizations, especially those working with children, do to protect against these red flags?

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