Locating the line with Location data

June 22, 2022
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    Since 2013, the percent of Americans that own a smartphone has increased from 35% to 90%. Similarly, greater than 9 out of every 10 smartphone owners (94%) carry their phone with them “frequently” and 82% say they “never or rarely turn their phones off.” Because of this, consumers could be forgiven for not being able to keep up with all the different ways companies try to use their location data for profit. Every time we download an app or sign up for a new service, there’s a chance that access to location data figures into the mix.


    The customer is always right

    The average consumer likely doesn’t know where ethical advertisers stand on the issue of location tracking. For more than a decade, they’ve read all about how mobile advertising is going to offer timely push notifications, like a coupon for 20% off when they walk by a sandwich shop. Or how they are served up product info when they browse around a department store. Privacy and transparency go hand in hand. Or they at least should when it comes to location-based marketing. More and more disclosure has been the name of the game recently as regulators attempt to prevent consumers from being exploited to turn a quick and easy profit. This has meant making it clear what info consumers give away when they click the now infamous “I accept” button/checkbox/captcha/etc.

    Recent developments have given rise to a conversation around the role of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) in giving consumers control over who has their data and how it can be used. Consumers today are given more opportunities than ever to opt-out of marketing that uses their data. Choosing if their data is being used in ways they don’t like, and being able to opt in to what works for them, empowers them. Even Apple recently released an advertisement informing consumers that they now offer various data protection such as the Safari browser’s “intelligent tracking prevention,” maps’ location data protection, and text messaging only seen by the sender and the receiver. But some consumers have questioned Apple’s intentions, and how they themselves will track and use your data, as part of this campaign. This will be something to keep an eye on for sure.


    Location Law

    In 2018, Vermont passed legislation to bring further transparency to the data collection and brokerage practices of their residents. Companies (technology-based or not) who “aggregate and sell data about consumers whom the business does not have a direct relationship with” must now register with the state, specify their data collection practices, state the number of past beaches their organization has been exposed to, and provide opt-out options for their consumers. On the other side of the country, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) aims to empower California residents to find out what information businesses are collecting on them, provide them with a way to opt-out of their information being shared or sold to outside parties, and put additional controls in place should a company have their data breached.

    Of course, the practice of generating data to classify and add consumers to lists for targeting, measurement, and attribution is not new. Credit card companies have long tracked and sold lists of individuals who purchase specific products or those within a certain category. Technology companies embed tags websites to monitor, store, and action the pages you view, elements you click on, and items you purchase online. Loyalty cards entice shoppers to participate with coupons and rebates in order to track purchases and prove the effectiveness of campaigns launched by shopper marketing groups. All of this consumer identity and consumer demographic data has been used for decades.


    How personal is location data?

    Location data is particularly interesting because of how personal it seems. Even though most data generated in the advertising and marketing tech industry is de-identified (through Mobile Advertising IDs, or MAID) and aggregated around (targeting groups and not exposing individual devices), there is a line in the sand that exists when it comes to tracking consumers. It can end up being as though someone is watching or following you as you move about the physical world. Many consumers will always feel a little off put when they receive an advertisement targeted for something that they only had a brief thought about purchasing.

    Consumers understand that they exchange location data for apps and services they want. Mobile operating systems have become much better about making it clear when an app wants access to this info. Most, if not all, go as far as to require consumers to go into their settings and turn it on manually just to prevent them from mindlessly signing their rights away. On top of this, many Android operating systems and app developers are beginning to offer more granular controls, like the ability to only let an app track location when the app itself is being used.


    Location Ethics

    There is no such thing as a free lunch, especially on the internet. From apps to content and everything in between, long lasting business models have been built into this established marketing system. The danger lies in disrupting this model with overreach that threatens the bilateral flow of consented consumer info and the content they want to consume. The reason consumers have grown comfortable with this arrangement is that the vast majority have never had an issue that made them second guess it. There is always chatter about massive data breaches that expose sensitive consumer info like SSNs, credit cards, and passwords. But none of this information is collected in routine, ad-based transactions.

    At Stirista, we take the proper precautions to make sure our identity graph data is precise, and avoid anything too personal. What that means is, if that information could be damaging in some way, it’s erased. The data we do collect is always collected via informed consent. Ethical marketing is what we do and what we support. Nothing like the spam calls or texts that wear you down. Of course we send emails, that’s been at the heart of everything we do. But we make sure that they’re easy to unsubscribe from if the consumer isn’t interested and just as easily ignored if the message isn’t relevant at the moment. Supporting the rights of consumers to participate in a thriving digital economy that lets them exchange limited data for content, apps, information, entertainment, etc. is important to us. Managing location data is a fine line, but being transparent and honest with consumers is the best business practice. Our goal is to best provide a positive digital experience that results in a win-win for all parties involved.