Location and Stalking

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

The Apple iPhone is one of the leading smart phone platforms but has the recent iOS4 Software update that enables iAd gone too far?  It seems Apple has created a catch 22 situation as users can opt out to be served targeted ads by visiting >> http://oo.apple.com/ but miss out on much of the benefits of the iPhone.

It seems that if you don’t want to share your exact location details with Apple they 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? So users are not given the option of opting to sharing everything or opt-out and be locked out of iTunes apps.  This change is a move designed to protect iAd advertisers and potentially iPhone app developers but at what cost to privacy?

Apple’s forced change to the user agreement seems similar to Facebook’s recent privacy changes which gave greater benefits 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.

It seems that with Twitter Places they seem to understand most of the user privacy issues as they allow you to control the accuracy of the location via 3 options: exact location, general area or state.

The social overshare problem which will likely increase as highlighted by the following post which coined a new term “Twitter Dorking”. This seems along the lines of stalking but highlights that both consumers and advertisers have to be careful when blurring the boundaries between sharing data and user profiling for sinister purposes.  The question needs to be asked will Subway get upset if you check-in at McDonalds more often and do you really need to tell the world you where you live and if you have left the house?

FourSquare is another platform that appears to be reaching its tipping point for mass adoption, growing faster than its competitor Gowalla.  Doing a quick analysis almost 30% of my Twitter friends are also on FourSquare but ive found not all users are yet comfortable notifying Foursquare every business or store they visit.  It also appears that a majority of advertisers and business is yet to take advantage of the platform outside of the often over promoted Starbucks specials.

FourSquare allows some fairly simple privacy settings with an obvious setting to “let local business see that I’ve checked-in”.  To provide the most value to business and gain benefits from venue promotions users need to enable this but this setting still seems a little too granular.

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.  http://www.las-vegas.net.au


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