Geolocation sharing services like foursquare, MyTown, Loopt, and others have been getting a lot of press lately in marketing circles. Geolocation is still in early adoption stages, but it is growing rapidly among mobile users. With it though are growing privacy concerns. You might think that the eagerness of location sharers to distribute data about their lives to other users and to companies is a sign of ignorance or unconcern, but it is neither. These users are choosing to accept a certain loss of privacy in return for certain benefits, but they expect certain boundaries to be observed.
The results of a study by privacy services TRUSTe and Harris Interactive revealed that the smartphone owners they surveyed stated that they were most concerned about their privacy.
The reason that these users agree to participate in many apps with advertisers is because they still feel as though they understand the agreement and are in control of the situation. 36% of the survey participants said that they felt in control of their personal information. How do participants assure themselves? By setting strong passwords and by reading privacy policies thoroughly before opting in or signing up, users feel safe.
Even though other surveys show that many mobile device users could potentially be interested in opting into advertisements which target their location based on tracking data, three quarters of the population surveyed in this study indicated that tracking by advertisers disturbed them.
Mobile privacy and security issues will only continue to receive more attention and press as mobile location sharing services grow into the mainstream, particularly with the opening of Facebook Places, which is introducing location sharing to more and more users. Just a couple weeks ago, there was a lot of press surrounding a log file that tracks and records the movements of the iPhone it resides on. If a person should acquire the iPhone, he can view all this tracking data unencrypted, and discover the movements of the iPhone (and its user) since the log file was introduced onto the device.
In reality, this problem has been in existence for a long time. In the past, it was revealed that government agencies make regular use of these types of log files in mobile phones to find out where users have been and what they have been doing. These searches are often conducted illegally without a warrant.
What this means is that until these broader legal dilemmas are more resolved, mobile users will probably always be deeply concerned about privacy and security issues, and tracking in particular. This doesn’t stop a lot of people from signing up or opting into apps with companies which track movements though.
If you are starting a geolocation campaign, it is crucial that you understand the privacy and security concerns of your patrons, and that you take steps to protect their privacy. Make it very clear in your user agreement what your policies are and how you are protecting the security of mobile users. Let them know that you share their concerns, and that will help you to establish trust.
Mobile users can benefit from geolocation targeted advertising. The trick on your end is just to make sure that they are benefiting from it, and that their data will not fall into the wrong hands.