I just read a blog by Kevin Pomfret, Executive Director of the Centre for Spatial Law and Policy, about the decision of Craigslist to pull it’s Adult Services section after finding out that people had been using it for prostitution and trafficking of women and girls. He suggested that people developing geolocation applications needed to also consider privacy of users in the same way.
I totally agree. Already there are many anecdotal stories of people using Facebook and other stories to target empty homes. One story in Mail Online called Facebook a shopping list for burglars. It went on to suggest that insurance companies might increase the risk profile of clients who have social networking accounts.
Now of course we have Facebook Places, which starts by checking the city your IP Address is based in and then invites you to let it know exactly where you are. There are bound to be loads of Facebook applications for mobile that will use the GPS in your phone to check exactly where you are. Great for stalkers who want to find you and for others who want to know where you aren’t and such as when you are not at home.
For more on this, check out my blog on Who’s Looking at you on Facebook?
Now don’t get me wrong, I am totally into location based services. I just want to make sure that people understand what they are getting into when they start using them. An application I really like is foursquare. It has rewards for people who use it such as points and badges. You can see where your ‘friends’ are, which is great if you want to catch up with them. I recommend if you do that, you make sure you actually know and trust your ‘friends’.
As foursquare starts to work towards monetizing, a good thing to do for application developers:) they are now selling advertising and encouraging locations to offer deals based on proximity. For example, if you become Mayor of a location you can get special deals. If you are Mayor of Auckland Airport for example, you can get free entry into the Koru Lounge. The cool thing about that is that the advertiser doesn’t have to know who you are and has no way of knowing who you are unless you tell them.
That’s one of the places I want to go with proximity based marketing. I would like to see Happy Hour applications and be offered deals based on product segments I’m interested in, at times when I am not only in proximity, but also when I am open to an offer. Offer me a 2 for 1 deal at a bar on a Friday evening, but not on a Monday morning. Give me the ability and an incentive to invite my friends, but I don’t want the advertiser to to have access to my friends details unless they want to provide them.
Opting in and informed consent is crucial for location based marketing. There is a Code of Practice for Direct Marketing in most countries. Proximity Based Marketing is even more important and for applications to become accepted, we need to be able to trust that our privacy and security is protected. This is particularly important for children and young adults who could easily be targeted by dangerous criminals.
Informed consent is a key issue here. Most people don’t read End User License Agreements. Do you know the rights you have bestowed on Microsoft when you open Microsoft Office? Did you read them, or did you just tick the box and start using it. In the Windows 7 EULA it says “b. Use of Information. Microsoft may use the computer information, accelerator information,
search suggestions information, error reports, and Malware reports to improve our software and services. We may also share it with others, such as hardware and software vendors.”
If you use any application, especially a location based application, you need to clearly understand what privacy it allows you and what your potential risks are. More on this in the future. In the meantime, the onus is on the application developers to protect the interests of the users if they want to encourage them to use their applications.
When The Hyperfactory started in mobile marketing, they got together with advertising agencies and other interested parties and formed a wireless marketing association. One of the first things the association did was to form a voluntary code of practice. I believe the same thing needs to happen for location based applications and quickly.
Here’s a classic example of what I was talking about: New Hampshire Police Bust Facebook Burglary Ring