Should you care if your location data is private?

May 23, 2011
There has been a lot in the media recently about location data and keeping it private.  The FCC is now getting involved after the whole Apple keeping your location data story took over the internet.  They’re going to have a meeting in Washington and some big people are going to talk about location data and privacy.  You’ll surely see them on the news sitting at tables with small microphones and clear pitchers of ice free water.


So what’s the big deal here?  Why is location data so important and why is it so scary to think about someone else getting your location data?  I mean, location data is just data, right?  Does it need to be more private than your income or marital status?  Well, actually, no.  It needs to be just as private as other private data.


The reason location is getting so much press lately is because for the first time in history, others can know where you are in real time.  And that’s scary to a lot of people.  Today there are over 5 billion people carrying around little computers in their pockets.  Couple that with the fact that these little computers need to know where they are to function properly and you have yourself some potential controversy.


Here’s my prediction of what’s going to happen.  The FCC is going to review this for a while and then realize that location data is actually useful and even critical to a mobile phone’s operation.  That’s going to make it hard to not collect location data so they’ll say that’s cool.  But they’re going to debate about how the data needs to be anonymous and then try to describe what that means.  The companies that need this data will agree to keep it anonymous with little resistance since most of the data actually already is anonymous.


But something really interesting will happen over the years it takes the FCC to do this.  People will stop caring so much about location data.  They’ll start treating it like other personal data and they’ll even offer to share their location data when doing so makes having a phone a better experience (If you use Foursquare you’re probably nodding your head right now).  In short, my prediction is that by the time the FCC gets around to doing much of anything, people will have already moved on to the next big scary thing out there (I’m looking at you, synthetic meat).


All in all, location is a key value driver for mobile and especially for mobile marketing.  Along with immediacy and interactivity, it’s what makes a mobile phone extremely valuable to marketers.  At Vibes, we feel location data should be used to filter marketing messages rather than create marketing messages.  Just because you live in Chicago, it doesn’t necessarily mean you want an offer on deep dish pizza, but it certainly means you don’t want an offer from Ray’s pizza on 49th & 7th Ave in Manhattan.


Mobile marketers need to realize that location should be used to figure out which ads promotions shouldn’t be served, not which ones should.  And if you realize just how significant that statement is, you’re going to succeed at mobile marketing.


- Alex

See more at the Vibes blog or on Twitter @alexgcampbell