I’ve been seeing some great posts lately on the The Digital Nirvana that cover many different aspects of mobile marketing and technology, including mobile 2D barcodes, mobile content delivery, and more. In light of a number of very recent events, and to build upon my last post about data security, I wanted to cover one additional aspect of mobile marketing and technology: location-based services (sometimes referred to as LBS). In the context of mobile, location-based services leverage the GPS and wireless broadband capabilities in a smart mobile device to drive hyperlocal applications.
One of the more basic applications of LBS is the GPS feature on your smartphone. Perhaps you’ve taken advantage of some of the more advanced applications built on location-based services, as well; you may have checked in to your favorite restaurant on foursquare or Facebook Places, found a good bookstore close-by on Yelp, or even found the nearest post office on the USPS app. These apps use your device’s GPS to determine your exact location and then use your wireless broadband connection to deliver localized information or entertainment to your screen, all in the matter of a few seconds. This accomplishment is pretty astounding when you think about it, and in many situations, highly useful.
If you’re not familiar with the prior example of “checking in”, it is typically a function of a location-based game or social network where a user “checks in” or submits their coordinates to prompt a location-based action. In LBS games like MyTown, your check-ins earn you points to level-up in the game. In LBS social networks like Facebook Places and foursquare, the place you are visiting is shared with your friends, and you’re even able to redeem coupons or discounts from the businesses you frequent.
Especially in major metropolitan areas, local businesses use these types of offers through something like “foursquare for Business” to generate loyalty with their plugged-in customers. Foursquare also works with brands to do location-based marketing for hyperlocal engagement. Some vendors and service providers, including Konica Minolta and Harte-Hanks (respectively) used foursquare at recent trade shows to engage with attendees and bring traffic to their booth.
While there are lots of impressive, useful applications of location-based services and significant growth is expected in this area, location data privacy has been in the news quite prominently over the past twoo weeks. Researchers recently announced their finding that Apple’s iOS tracks location data and stores it in an unencrypted file on your mobile device, which you can actually visualize using a desktop application the researchers created. Apple stated that some of this information is shared to help improve user experience over time. Later in the week, it was revealed that Android phones also track location data in a similar type of on-device cache. Apparently Microsoft does the same thing with its newest Windows mobile OS, as well.
What do these findings mean? In the end, probably not much if you’re a law-abiding citizen (these location databases have been used in forensic analyses for law enforcement). Still, with recent data breaches on our minds, and the prospect that these location caches are not encrypted in any way can certainly stir up thoughts of how this location data can be used if someone steals your device, for instance. Many users are clearly concerned about their location data privacy. Companies throughout the entire mobile ecosystem, from carriers to device manufacturers to app developers, need to be transparent about what data is stored, how it is stored, how it is shared/used, and how it can be protected. By clearly communicating this information and giving users the option to easily opt-out of location services (and make sure that opt-out actually works), the stigma around location data can be lifted.
There is immense potential still to be reached with location-based services, especially for local businesses trying to connect with their customers in new ways and for brands that want to engage with people in a unique way. Through transparency, choice, and clear value, LBS can move from a privacy concern to an effective tool for marketers and consumers. Service providers that are getting more involved with digital media need to seriously analyze if and how LBS fits within your suite of services; the opportunity is still too large to ignore.