Your Smartphone is giving away more information about you than you think, but don’t worry it is comp
The Smartphone represents many unique opportunities and one that is a common topic of discussion with marketers is the opportunity to deliver contextual advertising triggered by a user’s location. This is interpreted to mean that if someone walks past a store or branch they could get an offer delivered to their phone that will stop them in their tracks as well as offers to consumers while they are browsing inside the store or shopping mall.
While all Smartphones have a GPS chip inside, the truth is that a GPS signal from the chip inside your phone is in most instances not actually being used to pinpoint your location directly from the satellites above your head. The reason is that a GPS signal is actually very weak by the time it passes 20,000km to earth rendering GPS useless when you are indoors. In addition to that GPS can take some time to get its first fix, something that you do not have when you are expecting instant results when you check in via an App.
To improve the speed of geolocation services, as well as to actually provide results when you are inside a building the Smartphone that you are using would be calculating your location by using Assisted GPS (also known as aGPS). An aGPS system addresses these problems by using data available from a network, in most cases the mobile network operator or WiFi.
So the reality is your phone is not always passing personally identifiable information about you and your location directly from GPS positioning satellites to ad networks that can provide advertising at the time you walk into specific GPS co-ordinates. So the ability to hit someone with an offer as they walk past a store when their phone is in their bag is not that likely to happen.
As a result the collection of location data by third parties such as App developers, WiFi networks and Mobile Network Operators is already proving to be a very valuable as owners of these sources use or sell their anonymous data to ad networks to assist in delivering hyper local advertising based on the behaviour of segments of their users that they track. Foursquare is the most well-known example, as they recently announced that they were selling their location data through ad targeting firm Turn.
With the value of location data on the rise, as well as the mapping of inside of buildings such as that being done by Google well under way the next big thing for retailers it to start collecting data about the location of their shoppers as they move around their shops or shopping malls through triangulation of WiFi hotspots. What makes this more interesting for marketers, and surprising for consumers is that you do not need to be logged into the WiFi for your position to be tracked, all that is needed is to have the WiFi of on your phone turned on.
It is not surprising then to hear that Westfield in Australia are already tracking your location in shopping malls across Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne via Smartphones for the purpose of understanding the movement of shoppers. As a result of these efforts they are building a valuable database of information about their visitors that they claim will remain anonymous and be used to improve the shopping experience. While the ability to use this type of data for marketing purposes will be restricted by the Privacy Act, to believe that all this data will remain anonymous as they proclaim is in not entirely believable.
The reason is that when it comes to location data there really is no such thing as anonymous data. Researches from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Catholic University of Louvain studied 15 months’ worth of anonymised mobile phone records for 1.5 million individuals and found that that human mobility patterns are so predictable it is possible to identify a user from only four data points. So to take anonymous location data such as that being tracked by organisation such as Westfield and combine that with data from Twitter which also contains location data could provide some very interesting results, and in many cases provide enough information alone to identify individuals.
At least in Australia the good news is that your phone is not going to be buzzing with offers as you walk down the street anytime in the near future. But the advertising being presented to you on your phone will become more personalised based on your location as more and more data about your behaviour is used as another data point in ad targeting.
Oh yes, and do not worry that data will remain anonymous, so no one will ever no it’s you.