If you’ve been paying attention to the mobile marketing industry lately, you’ve probably heard or read about the rising importance of location-based technology. The theory is that consumers are more responsive to ads that are delivered to them with geographical relevance – for example, a person walking through the mall who receives an ad on his smartphone for 10 percent off a store he is approaching – and that by reaching customers in real-time, exactly where they are located, both the consumer and the marketer benefit. This form of marketing targeting has a lot of potential, particularly when used at the right moments.
Geo-fencing is an off-shoot of location-based technology that uses GPS to perform a specific task. For advertising, this may mean showing a particular promotion when a user enters a particular space. In other applications, it may mean tracking business technology by sending alerts to managers when equipment leaves the building, or by letting a fleet manager know when a truck driver has gone off course.
There are a lot of implications for the information provided by location-based technology, some that have consumers on edge. Apple’s Healthkit application, for example, is set to be rolled out on iOS devices in September – way ahead of regulation on such systems. Healthkit’s aim will be to centralize all the health information of its users to one central spot, allowing access by permission to physicians and other healthcare providers. Similar endeavors from Google and Samsung are also under development, with the end goal being to provide convenience and streamlining to the health maintenance and care process. All of these apps will employ location-based technology in some form or another – which is where some potential problems could arise.
A case study earlier this year found that by tracking the smartphone movements of users for just one week, a lot could be inferred or even determined about the person. Someone who has not overtly made it known that he or she has cancer, for example, may be pinpointed for the disease based on their movements. The case study inferred that in some extreme cases, Fourth Amendment rights can even be violated.
Health issues are just the tip of the iceberg, of course. There are a lot of things about our private lives that we’d like to remain that way, but that we could inadvertently be revealing through our tracked daily movements.
As I already mentioned, the regulations regarding location-based technology are behind the times, which means that it is up to the business community and marketers in particular to protect the privacy of consumers. Without those protections, eventually the legislation will catch up and the many positives of location-based targeting could be taken away because of abuse. Just because we have the technology available to target consumers more effectively does not mean we should exploit it. For each business, responsible use of location-based technology will differ based on what services or products they offer but as an industry, it is important to at least make that effort.
What is your view of the role marketers play in protecting consumer privacy through location-based services?
Photo via Flickr on Creative Commons