After the 9/11 tragedy the FCC put into effect a law that required all cell phones to have GPS hardware installed and activated in them. The reasoning behind this is so that if you were to call 911 from your cell phone, your location can be tracked. The fortunate/unfortunate side (depending on your feeling) of this new technology is that your location can be broadcast to the world. In the rapidly changing world of social media and mobile technology, your location is becoming that of public knowledge and a marketable commodity.
Of course the GPS system can be turned off on your phone; however it will still work when calling 911. This also disables the map navigation service, the restaurant location apps, and countless other features. So where do you draw the line? The key is in understanding and managing these applications and services. There seems to be a trend that with new technology comes some inherent risk. This risk may be in the form of gambling on what the final format will be, as in the case of HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray or something more concerning like having our computers hacked into. Most of us don’t give it a second thought. Take wi-fi for example, we connect to wi-fi networks all the time and rarely think of all of the other users on that particular network at the same time.
Now I am not saying that every time you log on to a public wi-fi network you are laying out your financial records on the table for everyone to see. It is quite the opposite, in fact that odds that there would be someone with the skills to hack into your computer at the same location and time are very, very small. This is the same with the GPS system in your mobile device. The advantages it offers well outweighs the perceived risk.
If you’re a Twitter user than you most likely have seen the location of some of the people you follow attached to their tweets. This can add to the credibility of the post and it just makes it more fun. Getting red carpet news from someone whose location is Los Angeles is much more interesting than say the latest in Hollywood gossip posted from Muskogee, Oklahoma. Another example would be reading a restaurant review posting from a local Twitter user. Since they are local they can compare one location to a similar one in town. This is information a non-local may not be able to provide.
Taking this to the next level is Foursquare and Gowalla. Both of these applications have taken the Location Based Services (LBS) idea and turned it into a game. Players check-in when they get to a location. Brian is at McDonald’s, Ann is at Target, Adam is at Applebee’s, etc. By checking in players get points. While the points are not redeemable for actual products or services (yet), players do earn badges to highlight their accomplishments. Some of the badges you can earn are the Adventurer (checking in to 10 different locations), the Gym Rat (checking into a gym 10 times in 1 month), the Bender (checking in 4+ nights ion a row), or the Crunked badge (4 check ins in one night) The current leader (in this space) is Foursquare, although Gowalla is gaining followers fast. Both services offer players the option to leave tips for future visitors of that location. These tips can be anything from “You have to try the Margarita Pizza” to “Get here before 9pm to get a good table”.
In Foursquare, the player that visits a location the most becomes the “Mayor” of that location. They keep their self elected seat in office until they are impeached by someone that racks up more visits. This game of cat and mouse can work itself into quite a competition. This is great advertising for the business since every time I check in I can let my entire Facebook and/or Twitter community know where I am and what I am doing.
Being Mayor of a location comes with its privileges. Businesses can choose to reward people for checking in and publicly announcing that they are visiting their establishment. Rewards can be anything the business decides to offer, a free coffee or sandwich or something more substantial like a discount on products or services. Promotions can be offered to anyone who checks in, but are usually reserved for the Mayor. A list of offers currently being offered to “Mayors” can be found at http://foursquare.com/businesses/.
Google has been dabbling in the LBS market for years now. Google Latitude is a feature that allows your mobile device to show your location and that of your friends on a map. Finding a friends party is now as easy as looking at the Google map and navigating to where they are on the map. The first thought many have is that Google has created the world’s best stalker tool. The reality is that you only broadcast your location if you choose to. Google will even remind you that you have the Latitude feature turned on.
Google has recently acquired a patent on location based advertising. Combined with their mobile ad network, Google is poised to start launching ads based on where you are standing. This means that surfing the net while waiting to get a hair cut, you may get served an ad for the burrito shop across the street or you may get an ad with a coupon attached for the barber/salon you’re sitting in. Better yet you could get an ad offering you a discount for your hair cut, then become the mayor of the burrito location and get a free lunch.
So how do you handle the world knowing your exact location? Is this a good thing or just way to Big Brother?