Four or five years ago, LBS was the buzzword to have in your proposal if you were looking for venture capital. Companies like Cellpoint promised a world of services keyed to your location, divined by tracking your mobile phone. This promise has yet to be fulfilled.
One of the challenges is privacy: do you really want advertisers to know your location? Google, soon to be even more dominant in online marketing, has already confessed that it wants to know enough about you to tell you what to do tomorrow. Yet currently it only has access to a small proportion of information about your activities — captured when you are online. Your mobile phone is with you constantly, and so the potential for learning your habits and patterns of activity is all the greater — especially if the phone becomes intrinsically linked to purchasing.
The initial reaction is one of fear — especially amongst the more liberal media. The term ‘Orwellian’ crops up again. But chatting this through with journalist and industry commentator Guy Kewney, he questioned whether people really care about their privacy as long as they only get targeted with services and adverts that are relevant to them. Certainly the convenience factor of receiving targeted offers that are genuinely relevant is high. I receive two or three ‘newsletters’ each day that are little more than lists of special offers from given suppliers. But I’m happy to receive them because I am interested in the products.
Another industry figure, Tony Fish, has proposed a solution that addresses the privacy issue to some extent. Instead of the advertiser or ad provider knowing your location, and other information, there would instead be a centralised broker, enabling you to access all the benefits of Web and Mobile 2.0 while maintaining control of your identity and the data about your habits.
It seems certain that more services will soon take advantage of knowing our location, in addition to the other information they already collect. Given the general levels of apathy, I doubt anyone will kick up much of a fuss about Google knowing where we are, as well as who we talk to and what we search for. At least until one or other less-than-democratic government requests the information to track down ‘enemies of the state’. If you’ve seen the movie, you have been warned.