Finding location, losing privacy

David Iwanow

David Iwanow
With over six years digital marketing experience consulting to Australia's biggest companies and marketing agencies, you can now find David working as a SEO Product Manager at Marktplaats.nl

The latest, growing social media trend is location based services like FourSquare, but are consumers ready for the privacy issues that location data  brings?

The Apple iPhone is one of the leading smartphone platforms, but has the recent iOS4 Software update enabling iAd gone too far? It seems Apple has created a catch 22 situation: users can opt out of being served targeted ads by visiting oo.apple.com, but then miss out on many iPhone benefits.

If you don’t want to share your exact location details with Apple then you may not have access to future apps from iTunes. So as a consumer you have to decide to provide Apple with your real-time geographic locations or not have access to its iPhone applications.

Apple highlights that your detailed user location information is only available to all its partners and licensees… which only appears to leave out those not using its platform? This change is a move designed to protect iAd advertisers and potentially iPhone app developers, but at what cost to privacy?

Apple’s changes to its user agreement seems similar to Facebook’s recent privacy changes, which gave great benefit to advertisers but not users. The Facebook change to ‘Like’ pages combined with the recent Wikipedia-style pages made the users profile data more easily targeted by advertisers.

Not wanting to be left out of the location game, Facebook appears to be on the verge of launching its own location-based features, but will privacy be again compromised by forced opt-in? The Facebook feature is likely to be similar to the recent Twitter Places update where users can opt to tag the tweet with their current location.

The new Twitter update allows users to “Add your location” with every individual tweet, but was already available by external platforms such as UberTwitter.

The interesting aspect for advertisers using FourSquare as a platform is they can begin to better target those who are visiting their venues or in the nearby area. The benefit is that a local Las Vegas tour company can now target those who are just visiting Las Vegas and not waste marketing dollars on local residents by offering them visitor promotions*.

But on a different campaign Hard Rock Casino, Las Vegas can provide a special birthday offer for Las Vegas residents who have checked in with FourSquare at nearby venues. The potential benefit of geo-targeting is a more relevant audience with localised ads allows advertisers to deliver better ROI on their local marketing campaigns.

The potential concern for consumers sharing so much information is that companies like Apple and Google may not be able to quell privacy fears about their behaviour data gathered on iPhone and Android. For marketers will applications like FourSquare increase their importance for local marketing while still enabling enough granular settings to protect the user privacy?

*Disclaimer: The Lost Agency is working with this client.