Written by Remy Kozak
Yesterday I moderated several sessions on Location & Privacy at an event coordinated by Caroline Lewko of the Wireless Industry Partnership as part of DigiBC’s Vancouver Interactive Digital Week activities.
The sessions themselves were quite insightful. There was a great mix of social media, mobile, creative and advertising folks in attendance and I had a good cross-section in each of the session. There was also a mix of European (primarily Dutch) and Canadian participants.
One of the things I was surprised to learn is how some companies that I never considered to be “in” the location space have gathered quite a bit of data. Of course Skyhook and Google are well known, the NAVTEQs and the TomToms of the world a little less so but clearly, as providers of turn by turn directions, they have the opportunity and the need to acquire a load of location information. One name I was surprised to hear, however, was Sirius Radio. Evidently, they not only track “what” people are listening to but “where”. When you think about it, it makes total sense. They can offer local and regional advertisers the opportunity to insert ads to only those people listening within and X mile/km radius. At least I assume they use the information for that purpose…
Another thing that became clear through our discussions is that many knowledgeable people are “pissed” that companies are storing location information. Their biggest question was “Why?”, “To what end?” if there is no discernible value to the user of storing their location on the cloud. Of course companies like Sound Of Motion that track athletes with GPS for training purposes have a reason to store location info. But why would other companies? I guess storing user locations makes sense for check-in applications such as Foursquare and Gowalla, where users essentially go around marking their territories so that their friends and other interested parties can sniff them out later. In fact, persistence seems to be the point of people using those services. Regardless, the overwhelming majority of session participants wanted:
1) To have a clear opt-in option which informed them what was being stored
2) For how long it was being stored; and
3) How it was going to be used i.e. was there any value to them
By far the most interesting discussion, however, was about who was responsible for privacy and location. The first session was split between “Buyer Beware” and “Government Regulation” being the solutions. The second (by far the largest) and third sessions, dismissed personal and government responsibility and put the onus squarely on the shoulders of the Brand/Companies doing the collecting. They felt that if a company was going to collect personal information (especially location) they needed to educate the users as to risks and to institute best practices in the handling of such information. What was most encouraging was that several companies themselves e.g. Canpages and ZipLocal, that were gathering such data fully agreed that it was their responsibility.
Of course, we firmly believe in best practices and do not store our user’s location information once an echo is paired. I think that makes us unique but it was good to see that others were discarding location info once its usefulness had expired – or at least depersonalizing it.